Decision Upholding Garfield County’s Notice of Violation Against RMI’s Mid-Continent Mine
The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday, Feb. 16 affirmed a Garfield County District Court judgment against Mid-Continent Mine operator Rocky Mountain Industrials (RMI) holding the company in violation of its Garfield County Special Use Permit. In denying RMI’s appeal, the court found that the County’s prohibition on operations during a wintertime big game wildlife closure was not preempted by the federal Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) waiver of the same stipulation. Importantly, the court found that Garfield County’s concurrent regulation to protect wildlife has a reasonable environmental purpose and so is permissible under the seminal U.S. Supreme Court precedent Cal. Coastal Comm’n v. Granite Rock Co., 480 U.S. 572 (1987).
“We are pleased that the Colorado Court of Appeals agrees that local communities should have a say in regulating the environmental impacts of these industrial operations on federal lands occurring just beyond our municipal boundary,” said City of Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes. “The City will continue to act to protect its economic interests in ensuring that mining impacts do not undermine its well-established tourism based economy.”
The case arose from a 2018-2019 investigation and enforcement action by Garfield County culminating in the issuance of Notices of Violation (NOV) to RMI. Instead of attempting to amend its permit or otherwise address the violations, RMI sued the county in state and federal court. The case was consolidated in state court where the City of Glenwood Springs intervened to protect its proprietary interests in the tourism economy, road infrastructure, public safety, open space resources, and general community welfare. In 2021 Garfield County District Court Judge Anne Norrdin upheld key components of the County NOV, including the winter wildlife operations prohibition, and resolved the remaining due process and discovery claims in the County’s and City’s favors. RMI subsequently appealed the winter wildlife prohibition, due process, and discovery decisions, but not the district court’s findings upholding the violations of mining outside of the presently permitted boundary and failing to adhere to its road maintenance agreement.
The Court of Appeals, in finding that the County’s winter wildlife operations prohibition was not preempted stated:
[The] BOCC’s restriction serves the environmental purpose of enhancing the presence and protection of big-game wildlife. The restriction serves a reasonable environmental purpose, is not absolute, and is temporary in effect (effective only from December 15th through April 15th). For these reasons, we conclude that federal law did not preempt BOCC’s ability to impose and enforce the restriction at issue here.
Court of Appeals Opinion at 18 (footnote omitted).
“This case sets an important precedent for Colorado local governments to understand where the line is when it comes to concurrent regulation of federally permitted mining impacts,” said Glenwood Springs City Attorney Karl Hanlon. “The City entered this case to help ensure that this important authority was not undermined by a company that just wants to ignore its impacts to the local community.”
The Mid-Continent Mine was permitted in 1982 and has operated on a relatively small 20-acre footprint since that time. In 2016 RMI purchased the mine and proposed a massive expansion to over 400 acres and up to 450 round trip haul-truck trips per day through residential neighborhoods to a railyard in the city. The City is opposed to this expansion proposal which has yet to be acted upon by BLM.
The case is Rocky Mountain Industrials, Inc., a Nevada corporation; and RMR Aggregates, Inc., a Colorado corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Board of County Commissioners of Garfield County, Colorado et al., and City of Glenwood Springs, a Colorado municipal corporation of the State of Colorado, Intervenor-Appellee, 2021CA1208. The case below is Garfield District Court No. 19CV30087.
View the Colorado Court of Appeals opinion announced February 16, 2023.