A storm is brewing in Glenwood Springs, Colorado related to the potential impact that a proposed mining project could have on key economic facets in the community, including the local hot springs and geothermal waters that have been a popular draw to the area for more than a century.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs, Glenwood Hot Springs, and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park have joined forces to voice concern regarding the proposed expansion of a Rocky Mountain Resources limestone mining project dubbed the Mid-Continent Quarry. In their official statement to the Bureau of Land Management, the three express fear that the expansion and required pre-testing could “obliterate source waters feeding” the Glenwood Springs-area hot springs, resulting in a major negative impact to the local economy.
The companies fear that proposed test drilling to analyze potential environmental impact and the subsequent construction of a large open pit mine could impact the aquifer, destroying the livelihood of “the two largest businesses in Glenwood Springs.” The proposed test drilling would mean that five water wells ranging from 125 to 250 feet deep would be dug in the local area in order to obtain data that could better inform the BLM about what underground water resources could be affected by the proposed quarry expansion.
The proposed quarry expansion would grow the BLM permit boundary of RMR’s Mid-Continent Quarry site from 15.7 acres to 447 acres, 320 of which would be disturbed by operations. This would set up the site to mine 5 million tons of limestone per year for the next 20 years. The Mid-Continent Quarry currently produces 40,000 to 60,000 tons of limestone per year. The RMR proposal included the detail that the expansion would result in 50 to 80 jobs with average annual wages between $55,000 and $70,000 with benefits, also generating a minimum of $22.5 million annually for the local economy. Their plan also details an environmental assessment and a reclamation effort.
The root of the concern among critics lies in how hot spring pools work and the potential impact of drilling. Underground water is heated, rising upward to fill surface-level hot springs. The path of this water is typically unknown, thus making any nearby drilling a potential threat with the ability to disrupt or alter the water’s path to the surface.
In their open letter to the BLM, Iron Mountain Hot Springs, Glenwood Hot Springs, and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park criticize the government organization for only including “limited background information about the proposed RMR drilling program in its public notice.”
The letter also states that damages from the proposed mining project could land in the “tens of millions” for the companies and the community.
The letter concludes by suggesting that the BLM “provide a more thoughtful environment review, distribute all the key information behind the RMR drilling proposal, [and] allow for public review of a draft EA or EIS” prior to making a decision about a test well or core drilling. The letter states that if this is not done, it will “likely result in legal challenge.”
The City of Glenwood Springs has also criticized of the quarry expansion project through Mayor Jonathan Godes who stated that “the proposed mine […] stands to harm the city by impacting […] values that engender community, support local business, and make the city a good place to live. The proposed drilling specifically threatens the sources of the hot springs for which the city was named and that generate significant tourism-related business.”
Godes went on to express concern with lack of city involvement in quarry-related decisions, stating that the “BLM has continued to deny the city’s request to be included as a Cooperating Agency in the NEPA [Natural Environmental Policy Act] process which has resulted in the city being left in the dark regarding numerous important steps in the review and permitting process.”
Godes has requested on behalf of the City of Glenwood Springs that the BLM “not grant a categorical exclusion from NEPA for RMR’s proposed wells,” instead requiring that this baseline study undergo its own environmental assessment.
According to the BLM, they plan on conducting an environmental impact statement on the proposed quarry expansion beginning in late spring or summer of 2020. The organization is also requiring Rocky Mountain Resources to complete a series of baseline studies as part of the environment impact statement. These baseline studies are slated to include the initial drilling of the five water wells, a major point of concern for those that oppose the exploration into the quarry expansion.
The BLM recently held a public commenting period regarding the drilling of the five water wells and are in the process of reviewing 250 comments that were received. They do not have an estimated time for when a decision will be made. The first public comment period regarding the quarry expansion is expected in 2020.
Glenwood Springs is located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River with a population of 9,614 residents. The town is known for its hot spring resorts, ample options for outdoor recreation, and for being a gateway to popular ski areas, like Aspen.
Glenwood Hot Springs Resort was opened in 1888 and is home to the largest hot spring pool in the world. Iron Mountain Hot Springs began their commercial operation in 1896. After a brief closure, it reopened in July of 2015. Glenwood Caverns initially opened for tours in 1895, closing for 82 years in the early 1900s before reopening as an adventure park in 1999.