Colebrook Quarry: A 40-Acre Quarry Proposed on BLM Lands

Old Growth Trees at Proposed Colebrook Quarry, March 2022. Courtesy Rich Nawa/KS Wild

In January 2022, residents along Hunter Creek Road in Curry County received a letter from the Oregon Department of Transportation informing them that the agency was planning to open a new quarry (Colebrook Quarry) in their vicinity, to provide a high-quality aggregate source for repairs on Highway 101. ODOT merely asked residents if they had any questions or concerns with the potential opening of the quarry, and casually mentioned that they had recently completed environmental resource surveys in the area.

There was no mention of how large the quarry would be, when quarrying would start, or who would mine the rock. There was no mention at all of any environmental effects. It was determined local residents who began finding out the truth: the proposed quarry would be some forty acres in size, and over an undetermined number of years unnamed contractors would mine a minimum of 300,000 tons of rock! That is a great deal of rock. Furthermore, the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency, actually owns the land. ODOT eventually explained that BLM would transfer the land to the Federal Highway Administration for a quarry, which ODOT would manage. As it would be a mere land transfer, the agencies said they would not have to undertake any environmental analysis on federal laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act. It merited only a “Categorical Exclusion” rubberstamp from the agencies involved.

Further investigation uncovered that the parcel has old growth forest, and is near protected areas on BLM lands. If it remained in BLM ownership, the agency would be obliged to protect it for its old growth characteristics. Transferring it to FHWA would release BLM from that obligation.

Local residents and conservation organizations researched and wrote detailed testimony. This would clearly not be a mere land transfer with no environmental effects: reducing forty acres of land to a moonscape over a number of years has definite environmental impacts. Only a few miles away, the already-active Conn Quarry greatly reduced the need for another new quarry. But the agencies did not consider any alternatives to opening the new Colebrook Quarry. Nor did they provide any kind of reclamation plan for the quarry, as required by state law. It was pointed out that many more trucks on Hunter Creek Road would add greatly to the dust and storm runoff that already enters Hunter Creek (a critical-habitat stream for ESA-listed Southern Oregon Northern California coho salmon) from the road, which is hydrologically connected to the creek.

It became abundantly clear that the agencies had tried to craft the land transfer in a manner that would allow it to slip under the radar of environmental review: land transfers do not, by themselves, have environmental effects; therefore, the quarry that would result from the land transfer also did not require any environmental review. But federal law limits a “Categorical Exclusion” to land transfers that would not otherwise be subject to NEPA. Clearly the land transfer here is linked to the quarry, which obviously, being a highly destructive activity, does require NEPA analysis.

The agencies are reviewing the extensive comments submitted by several organizations, including ORCA. Our goal is to force them to conduct the required environmental review about this massive, unnecessary quarry.



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