Stone Quarry Lawsuit Victory

Online Messenger #96

Here is the news release sent out by WWP Today (May 9, 2005)

Federal Court Awards Victory To Western Watersheds Project in Decorative Stone Quarry Lawsuit

On Friday, May 6, 2005 U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that the Bureau of Land Management's Environmental Analysis of the proposed expansion of the Three Rivers Stone Quarry near Clayton violated federal law. In his ruling on the lawsuit filed by the Hailey-based conservation group Western Watersheds Project, Judge Winmill ordered the agency to conduct a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement to assess the impacts that the expansion will have on the areas' important scenic values, and the economic feasibility of fully reclaiming the site once mining is complete.

The Three Rivers Stone Quarry - currently the largest flagstone quarry in the United States - is located on BLM managed land in Custer County along Idaho State Highway 75 near the confluence of the Salmon and East Fork Salmon rivers, both of which are eligible for future designation as Wild and Scenic rivers.

Judge Winmill's decision noted that the L&W Stone Corporation took over the quarry's operations in 1996 and by 2002 had quadrupled its size so that it violated the existing plan of operations, and could no longer be fully reclaimed as required. The BLM then required L&W Stone to file a revised plan of operations. The revised plan, filed in December 2002, proposed increasing the quarry's size to 166 acres and its duration to 40 years, and allowed the two pits from which the flagstone is removed to remain unrestored without recontouring or revegetation. (Pit One would ultimately be 2000 feet long, 900 feet wide and 500 hundred feet deep, and Pit Two would be about 1000 feet long, 900 feet wide and 100 feet deep.)

In July 2004 BLM prepared an Environmental Analysis based on the revised plan, and at the same time issued a decision to authorize a plan of operations similar to the one proposed by L&W Stone.

In September 2004, Western Watersheds Project, which owns 432 acres adjacent to the Stone Quarry, filed litigation challenging BLM's Environmental Assessment, the quarry's impacts to the Salmon River corridor and other special management areas, and the agency's failure to allow public input on the Assessment.

On Friday May 6, 2005, Judge Winmill ruled that BLM violated the National Environmental policy Act (NEPA) by failing to obtain any public input on the analysis, by not providing the public important information such as the economic feasibility of full reclamation of the mine site, and by failing to prepare a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement. As the decision states:

"The Quarry lies in an environmentally sensitive area, where scenic values are given high priority. The mining requires large pits on an exposed ridge. The Quarry's size has increased to the point where it is no longer feasible to fully reclaim the site, and the reclamation that is required is not clearly defined - Expanding the Quarry to 166 acres on an exposed ridge for 40 years without clear reclamation requirements in an area where scenic values are protected raises substantial questions as to whether that expansion will have a "significant" affect on the environment."


Judge Winmill also stated that, pending the development of the impact statement, "[s]ome type of injunction must issue in this case - the environmental concerns demand it." The scope of the injunction, however, is yet to be determined, and the Judge allowed 30 days for the parties to the lawsuit to try and reach agreement among themselves on the terms of the injunction the court will propose. If no agreement is reached the Court will impose its own injunction terms on the Quarry and the BLM.

According to Judi Brawer of Advocates for the West, the attorney for Western Watersheds Project in the litigation: "This decision makes clear that BLM cannot exclude the public from its public land decision-making, and cannot simply rubber-stamp a mining plan without protecting the irreplaceable public resources that will be permanently destroyed by the Stone Quarry's expansion."