A contentious proposal to greatly expand a limestone quarry just outside of Glenwood Springs will get a closer look. The Bureau of Land Management announced it will conduct an environmental assessment on test wells that would be drilled to better understand the hydrology of the area around the mine.
But the BLM almost decided not to do the assessment.
In December, the BLM told members of the state's congressional delegation they would likely grant Rocky Mountain Resources what’s known as a categorical exclusion, which would exempt the drilling from an environmental assessment. This was after receiving 250 comments from entities such as Garfield County, the city of Glenwood Springs and owners of the local hot springs asking for an assessment.
Glenwood residents are concerned the expansion and drilling might impact the town’s namesake mineral hot springs. The environmental assessment will decide if the drilling should happen, but won’t necessarily decide if the expansion should move forward or not.
Added political pressure from Republican Rep. Scott Tipton ultimately changed the BLM's minds.
Tipton spoke with Colorado state BLM director Jamie Connell on the phone and wrote her a letter to urge the agency go ahead with the environmental assessment.
“No one understands the hydrology of the area,” Tipton said. “So an abundance of caution is needed to be exercised in drilling any test wells and making sure that we're not going to be impacting the hot springs and, ultimately, the economy of the local community.”
Jeff Peterson from the Citizens’ Alliance, the group that has led the fight against the quarry expansion, is glad the BLM reversed their decision. But he was disappointed to learn that public outcry wasn’t enough.
“I'm glad they chose the right path, ultimately. But, you know, these are public lands and they are representing the public as a governmental agency. And so they should be listening to the public,” Peterson said.
The BLM said the environmental assessment will be finished in early 2020.