About the Permitting Process for the Mine Expansion Proposal
Permits for the project must be approved by federal, state and local governments.
The lead permitting agency is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), since the existing quarry and the proposed expansion is on public land managed by BLM.
If Rocky Mountain Industrials gains permit approval from BLM, it must also seek permits for mining reclamation, air quality, water quality and highway access from various agencies within Colorado state government. Permits will also be required from Garfield County and the City of Glenwood Springs.
If all permits are approved, quarry expansion operations would start about 18 months later.
The BLM permit review process
BLM has committed to reviewing the limestone mine expansion proposal through a formal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review process.
Because the EIS process is now limited to a one-year time period, BLM is first conducting several advance studies that will provide essential information needed for the EIS process to begin.
BLM’s timeline for the EIS process continues to be extended. A timeline laid out in January 2021 called for the EIS process to begin in fall 2021.
In January 2022, BLM updated the timeline. (See the blog post here.) At the time, the agency planned to release the results of the mineral examination in mid-2022, and to then proceed with further advance studies depending on those findings.
As of March 2023, the mineral examination was still under wraps, and no additional studies were begun.
Meanwhile, in August 2022, BLM issued a Notice of Noncompliance to RMI, citing four problem areas with its current quarry operations. BLM is requiring RMI to complete a major plan modification to bring the current quarry into compliance. As a major modification, that effort will include a public review process. Track the BLM noncompliance enforcement action here.
Five Advance Studies
Hydrologic and Groundwater Study
Cave and Karst Study
Standard Biological and Cultural Surveys
Prior to conducting a permit review, BLM is conducting a mineral exam. This study will determine whether the limestone deposit meets 1872 Mining Law standards as a “locatable” mineral, or is of a common variety and thus is considered as a “saleable” mineral.
Under the 1872 Mining Law, a deposit that meets “locatable” standards is subject to less stringent permitting requirements. Mining companies extract minerals without payment to the government or taxpayers.
A deposit that does not meet “1872” standards and is determined to be “saleable” is subject to increased environmental and public health protections. Minerals are purchased from the government under a sales contract.
The examination process includes geologic sampling and an economic study of RMI’s potential customer base and profitability.
Results of the mineral examination were initially expected in 2020, but are now not expected until some time in 2022.
Hydrologic and Groundwater Study
In September 2019, Rocky Mountain Industrials proposed drilling five water monitoring wells an estimated 125 to 250 feet down through the Leadville Limestone Formation, which is known to hold groundwater aquifers. RMI proposes using the existing Transfer Trail roadway to access the well sites.
BLM conducted a public scoping process in October 2019, drawing 250 comments opposing the test drilling. The Citizens’ Alliance filed extensive technical comments questioning the risk of test drilling to permanently damage the aquifers that feed Glenwood Springs hot springs resources. Read our commentary here.
While BLM positioned itself to quickly approve the drilling request through a categorical exclusion, comments filed by GSCA, the City of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, and Iron Mountain Hot Springs all called on the BLM to conduct further study under an Environmental Assessment. Then-Third District Congressman Scott Tipton sent a letter to BLM urging the agency to “operate under an abundance of caution,” and formally requested that BLM carry out an Environmental Assessment.
On Dec. 12, 2019, BLM announced that it would conduct an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the drilling plan, rather than grant an immediate categorical exclusion approval.
To date, BLM has not released a preliminary environmental assessment (EA) document. The EA process includes a public comment period. A final decision by BLM on whether and how to allow the test well drilling would come after the comment period.
Cave and Karst Features
A study of the proposed mining area’s cave and karst features hasn’t formally started.
Discovery in October 2019 of the Witches’ Pantry Cave by local spelunkers proves that valuable cave resources underlie the proposed mine area. BLM is working with Colorado Parks & Wildlife to learn whether the cave is used by bats for winter hibernation.