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Half-hearted Fanatic: The swamp comes to Glenwood
Turning the 'Spa in the Mountains' into a swamp
shoemaker
Sloan Shoemaker

They claim they want to mine high-grade limestone but it’s looking more like they just want to import the D.C. swamp to Glenwood. 

Glenwood Springs became one of Colorado’s first tourist destinations in 1888 when the Hot Springs Pool opened. It’s since grown into a world class tourism and outdoor recreation resort community. The city’s official seal has four quadrants, each with images highlighting its major attractions: fishing, swimming, skiing and hunting. These surround an image of the majestic and historic Hotel Colorado. The ribbon underneath reads “Spa in the Mountains.” Glenwood has successfully worked for decades to diversify its economy and secure its reputation as one of the Western Slope’s must-visit vacation spots. 

That’s all jeopardized by a proposed massive open pit mine on the mountainside north of town. Rocky Mountain Resources (RMR) bought the existing small limestone quarry that’s been chugging along inconspicuously since 1982 and wants to expand it 5,000 percent, requiring up to 500 dump trucks per day vs. the current 20 trucks/day. That’s a polluting, noisy dump truck every two-to-three minutes grinding down Transfer Trail, through residential areas, by school buses and a park, crossing over the Colorado River to load a train idling on a side-track beside the river, 24 hours/day, seven days/week for 20 years. 

All the municipalities from Rifle to Aspen are opposed to it. Glenwood is lawyering up with one of the nation’s preeminent mining law experts to parry the mine’s every move. The powerful Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance was birthed purely to fight the expansion. Even Garfield County – no liberal bastion – is concerned and issuing formal notices of regulatory non-compliance. 

So, why isn’t this DOA?

Because RMR has connections all the way to the White House via President Trump’s appointed Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Secretary Bernhardt has ultimate decision authority over the proposed mine’s approval. Prior to being appointed to this position, Bernhardt was a lobbyist for the mining and oil clients of Denver’s influential law and lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck The firm’s chairman is Norm Brownstein and his son is Chad Brownstein, RMR’s Chief Executive! 

The swamp creatures come into clearer focus.

Only weeks into his appointment as Secretary of Interior, three ethics investigations were opened with concerns about Bernhardt exerting undue influence over DOI decisions that affected his former clients. The Washington Post reported that Bernhardt’s old lobbying firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, harvested record revenues from clients hoping to cash in on his recent appointment. 

The swamp deepens. 

A little history is important to understand the full picture. In 1982, Pitkin Iron developed the Mid-Continent Limestone Mine on the mountainside above Glenwood Springs. The high-quality, chemical grade, 95 percent pure limestone was used for dust suppression in regional coal. Pitkin Iron secured its claim and permit under the 1872 Mining Law, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. The purpose of the 1872 Mining Law was to make America’s valuable, publicly owned minerals available for the development of an expanding nation and to promote settlement of the Western Frontier. 

A miner demonstrating that the minerals were locatable and valuable secured a mining claim paying $2.50-$5/acre but $0 for the actual mineral being mined. Importantly, the miner had to prove that the sale of the mineral would turn a substantial profit. Why’d the feds care about substantial profit? To protect the public domain from fraudulent claims where there were no actual valuable minerals. 

Preventing abuse of the 1872 Mining Law was a twofold concern. 

First, the feds didn’t want to see an 1872 claim used to mine common variety gravels and aggregates, plentiful practically anywhere across the nation. Freely giving away public lands to extract universally available common gravel and aggregates would amount to taxpayers subsidizing a commonly available product, giving unfair competitive advantage and skewing the market. Common gravel must be purchased from the public. 

Secondly, the federal government has an obligation to ensure the public domain is used in the greater public interest. Making a fraudulent claim under the 1872 law would privatize, for free, a chunk of the public domain preventing other non-mineral beneficial uses like homesteading, agriculture, railroad development, town site establishment, etc., all very important to the expanding nation. 

Fast forward to 2016 and the old mine perched on the mountainside above town. The 1872 Mining Law allows the mine to operate as long as the originally permitted, high-value, chemical grade limestone is produced. The free ride ends when that original high-grade mineral is no longer produced or if the mine switches to common varieties. Well, guess what? The coal mines closed. With no demand for high-grade limestone, RMR switched to selling common variety gravel and rock. It’s called mineral trespass, a polite way to say ripping us off.

This deal is looking swampier than ever.

Why is this illegal mine still in operation? This isn’t an 1872 mining law mine anymore and RMR can’t rely on the old approval. And BLM can’t simply revise the permit without a legally mandated process determining what best meets the public interest. RMR appears to have been stealing from the public. It should be shut down and charges filed. Instead, BLM has cooked up some lame-ass workaround, allowing RMR to pay into an escrow account for the value of our minerals they’ve been stealing for years while BLM figures out how to pull its head out of its nether regions.

If RMR was starting from scratch right now, the overwhelming public interest would be in supporting Glenwood Springs tourism economy. RMR’s mine simply wouldn’t be allowed. Instead BLM entertains a 5,000 percent expansion proposal.

BLM is wallowing in the swamp. 

In a letter to BLM, Glenwood describes RMR’s approach as bully tactics, revealing that RMR brags about its “special relationships with the Department of Interior” which they “intend to exploit to illegally operate and expand this mine.” 

Straight from the swamp creature’s mouths…they are going to turn the spa into a swamp. 

Sloan lives outside of Carbondale in a solar-heated, strawbale house with his lovely wife and two vibrant teen daughters. After 25 years of driving a desk, Sloan has lots of deferred maintenance on his body, mind, and spirit to catch up on and prefers activities that do all three at once. Hit him up with ideas.