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Our Valley, Our Values

Proposed Limestone Quarry Expansion Threatens Historic Glenwood Springs

On November 15, 2019, Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes declared war on RMR Industrials, owner of the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry, which sits just outside city limits.

“These are battles that we need to win and that we need to fight,” he told reporters at the launch of the “Don’t Strip Glenwood” campaign. 

This is not a war with guns and bombs but a war of influence and money. At stake is the livelihood of a Colorado mountain town and that of a publicly-traded company with ties to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and one of the country’s most influential law and lobbying firms, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. 

Those ties weave a tangled web. Chad Brownstein is co-owner of RMR Industrials. His father is Norm Brownstein, founder and chairman of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which is also RMR’s lobbying firm. David Bernhardt was a lobbyist for some of the firm’s extraction industry clients before he came to the Interior Department.

What are they fighting over? Basically, a piece of land and whether to mine it for the minerals that lie beneath the surface. RMR purchased the existing quarry from Cal-X Minerals, LLC in 2016 and wants to expand it from 15.7 acres to 320 acres. The mine would operate 24/7 year-round, including blasting, crushing, and hauling during the day, for 20 years.  

According to financial reports filed with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) on March 31, 2019, the expansion is part of the company’s plan to boost sagging revenues, which also includes developing a rail yard in Bennett, Colorado.

But, as of last March, RMR had a little over $500,000 in cash, $932,180 in assets, more than $2.7 million in liabilities, and a working capital deficit of over $1.8 million. RMR losses since 2014 had come to just over $35,400,000. The company stated in the SEC report that “these factors raise substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

In essence, RMR needs the quarry expansion to succeed in order to stay afloat.  

The opposite is true for Glenwood Springs; if the expansion is approved, town officials and community members say it will ruin the area’s quality of life and devastate its vital tourist economy. 

Local Control in Question

The quarry is on federal land, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, but the land is also within Garfield County. That means RMR must have federal, state, and county permits to operate the mine. 

In May 2019, Garfield County commissioners issued a notice of violation to RMR, stating that the company was out of compliance with certain permit requirements. RMR had until June 1 to resolve the issues. Instead, RMR filed a lawsuit against the commissioners. 

In November, RMR attorney David McConaughy wrote in a letter to the state Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety that RMR filed federal and state lawsuits “after unsuccessful efforts to resolve the matter via discussions with Garfield County staff.” 

But Sheryl Bower, county community development director, said that no discussions specific to resolving the issues occurred. 

“We had good discussions about coming in to discuss the violations,” she says of the initial talks with RMR. But, she adds that the company took no further steps toward those talks until November, just as the county’s six-month moratorium on new mining projects went into effect.  

As of press time, the suit is still in state court. One issue that could be at stake is the scope of local control over activities on federal land within county boundaries, which is why the City filed a motion to join the lawsuit in early January. Mayor Godes says it’s a regional issue. 

“What can happen to Glenwood can happen to any small town,” he warns.

Municipalities from Rifle to Aspen—and the RE-1 School District—have officially announced their support for Glenwood Springs’ efforts to combat the expansion. 

Impact—and What’s at Stake 

The quarry is directly adjacent to Glenwood city limits. For the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance, a group fighting the expansion, there’s more to the size of the proposed development than the acreage. The mine’s footprint would be visible throughout town. Mining operations would increase truck traffic between the mine and the rail yard beside the Colorado River and destroy habitat for bighorn sheep, bear, deer, bald eagles, and other wildlife.

On a community hike to the quarry last summer, Jeff Peterson, director of the Alliance, said the quantity of rock that RMR plans to extract is about five million tons per year over two decades. 

“They’re proposing blasting operations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., mining operations from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” he explained. “So, over that 12-hour day that they propose operating mining equipment, they would need to average 38,000 pounds a minute out of the hillside.” 

That means noise and dust from blasting, crushing, loading and hauling the rock. Matt Langhorst, Public Works director for the City of Glenwood Springs, estimates that trucks would dump rocks into metal rail cars every 69 seconds. 

“You can imagine what the noise load will be for everybody,” he said on a November tour of the haul route. “You will hear it across the city all day long—12 hours a day, 365 days a year.”    

Langhorst said a haul trailer could be as long as 48 feet not including the cab in front of it. 

“That could easily add another 15 feet to the length of the vehicle,” he explained. The main road to the quarry, Transfer Trail, is unpaved and barely wide enough for two vehicles. 

“These trucks will be integrating into residential traffic every day,” said Langhorst, who’s worried about how trucks will navigate hairpin turns and the intersection of Transfer Trail and Highway 6 & 24.  

“They’ll be stacked at the bottom, waiting to cross 6 & 24 with cars in between them and all around them,” he explained. “It’s kind of a frightening situation.”

Once past the quarry entrance, about a mile from the Highway 6 & 24 turn-off, Transfer Trail narrows to a steep, rocky two-track that switch-backs up the face of the mountain above the existing quarry.    

In summer, the quiet path winds through gambol oak, wildflowers, pinyon pine, and juniper. Birds flit and chirp. Raptors soar in the distance. A 2018 biological field survey of the proposed expansion area stated that bighorn sheep use the lower part of the road as winter range. RMR wants the restrictions against mining during winter, which protects wildlife, permanently lifted. 

Many agree that the upper reaches of Transfer Trail are not suitable for traffic, other than foot. According to Peterson, mine employees would use this part of the road, not the big trucks, but the path would have to be flattened and widened to handle vehicles.

Tourist Attractions Threatened

Glenwood Springs resident Steve Beckley is opposed to the quarry expansion. He and his wife, Jeanne, own the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park within a stone’s throw, so to speak, of the existing mine. The quarry scar first comes into view on the gondola ride up to the park and, unless one is touring the caves or at the south end of the park, it’s always in sight.

The park operates year-round and attracted 250,000 visitors in 2019. Beckley said he’s invested over $5 million in the business. But, he has put plans for park additions on hold. 

“If the quarry is allowed to go forward and there’s 600 trucks a day that run through some of these properties, it would be a waste of money to build anything because they’d be so impacted by the traffic, the noise, and the dust,” he says.

Water is also a big concern. Beckley owns Iron Mountain Hot Springs, directly across the Colorado River from the rail yard. He says the expansion threatens the water supply to both Iron Mountain and the historic Glenwood Hot Springs. He explains that the aquifer which supplies both is fed by snowmelt from the Flat Tops. 

“It comes down, gets heated, and rises to the surface,” he says. “If that source water is stopped, there’s no more water into the hot springs and there’s no more water coming to the surface.” 

But RMR has yet to conduct the required hydrology study, another permit process swirling around the proposed expansion like so many dust devils. The BLM first has to complete an analysis of potential impacts of the study. 

Questions Remain

Meanwhile, quarry operations continue despite the ongoing litigation over county permit violations. And, recent changes raise questions about the fate of RMR Industrials and the proposed expansion. 

Chad Brownstein retired as CEO of RMR on January 1. His reasons remain a mystery but, in an official filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, RMR states that he will continue as non-executive chairman of company’s Board of Directors and remain an employee for the time being. Greg Dangler, RMR’s president since 2014, took over the CEO post and continues to hold a seat on the board.

Local spelunkers discovered a cave last fall within the quarry expansion footprint that is now protected under the 1988 Federal Caves Resources Protection Act. 

But, shifts in federal land management regulations could favor the expansion. The current administration has proposed significant revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act that could reduce public involvement in—and increase corporate control of—federal land projects across the country. The Bureau of Land Management is considering similar rule changes about projects on agency lands. 

The outcome is far from certain, but Mayor Jonathan Godes says the Glenwood Springs community is ready for the fight. 


 

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Want to Take Action?

The Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance offers updates, event details, and ways to take action at LoveGlenwood.org. Individuals and businesses can endorse the quarry opposition via online petition there. You can also contact our elected officials:

Governor Jared Polis

303.866.2471

Colorado Representative Perry Will (District 57)

303.866.2949

perry.will.house@state.co.us

Colorado Senator Bob Rankin (District 8)

303.866.5292 

bob.rankin.senate@state.co.us

Congressman Scott Tipton (District 3)

202.225.4761

Tipton.house.gov

Senator Michael Bennett 

202.224.5852

Bennett.senate.gov

Senator Cory Gardner

202.224.5941

Gardner.senate.gov

  • The Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry in winter, from Glenwood Caverns.
  • Jeff Peterson (in red cap) leads a hiking group up Transfer Trail to discuss the expansion proposal in summer 2019.
  • The narrow upper reaches of Transfer Trail, which would be used daily by RMR employees under the proposed expansion.
  • A public hearing with Rocky Mountain Resources and the Garfield County Commissioners, held in April 2019 at Glenwood Springs Middle School.