In the fall of 2022, Colorado Stone Quarries, Inc. (CSQ) announced in a newsletter the discovery of a special type of gold-veined white marble at its Pride of America Quarry (formerly Colorado Yule Marble Quarry) just south of the town of Marble. It was the latest in a series of developments at the quarry since CSQ (a subsidiary of the Italian-based conglomerate R.E.D Graniti SpA [Graniti]) took over the quarry a dozen years ago.
The quarry, first worked in the mid-1880s, had its heyday in the first half of the 20th century, when it supplied the white marble used in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as in structures in Denver and other cities. However, the operation was rarely profitable, and production there ceased with the start of World War II. Some quarrying resumed in about 1990, but large-scale operations only returned after the site was acquired by Graniti in 2011.
In a conversation with The Sopris Sun, Jean St-Onge, CSQ’s general manager, explained that the company had to make an initial “massive investment” to replace outdated equipment at the quarry to “make the site more efficient and open up new galleries.” The former method of blasting marble blocks from the quarry walls was replaced with the use of specialized drills and saws, drastically reducing wastage. In addition, new portals were opened west of the original site into large underground galleries; an old outdoor quarry is also now being worked in the summer.
At first, all of the quarried marble was sent to Italy for processing before being shipped back to the U.S. and other countries. However, when it became clear that the bulk of the sales were in the U.S., CSQ decided to establish a large slabbing plant in this country. Delta, southwest of Marble, was chosen as the site, and after several years of planning and development — including, as St-Onge described it, a “big struggle” to complete the building construction and install the equipment during the pandemic — it became fully operational in early 2021.
The quantity of marble processed there is enormous: annually, some one million square feet each of slabs and tiles, its two main products. All are treated with a patented process utilizing potassium silicate that, as St-Onge noted, “makes our marble denser and less absorbent [with] less breakage and provides the market with a superior product.” He continued, “It allows us to increase our recovery at manufacturing. We’re getting more from the mountain with this [process].”
CSQ established its large slabbing plant in Delta after several years of planning and development. Courtesy photo
Issues and resolutions
It has not always been a bed of roses between the CSQ-operated quarry and the local community. Several years after the CSQ takeover, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) learned that the quarry had been allowed by state officials to expand from about 10 acres to some 125 acres, raising concerns about environmental impacts on the area. St-Onge stated that the quarry’s increased size resulted from the company buying up private property (more on this below).
A more serious issue arose in 2018 — in an incident widely reported in local media — when the company filled in some 1,700 feet of Yule Creek adjacent to the quarry for an access road and diverted its course to the other (east) side of a rock outcropping. CVEPA and others strongly objected to that action, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ultimately ruled that the company had violated the federal Clean Water Act. There were discussions about restoring the original streambed.
A year later, however, some 5,500 gallons of diesel fuel were accidentally spilled in the area of the filled-in bed. It was ultimately decided that the company would perform remediation on the diverted section of the creek to prevent spilled fuel from contaminating the watershed. In addition, CSQ was to replace a culvert on Mud Gulch, a tributary to the Yule just downstream. Both projects were undertaken and largely completed in 2022, although more plantings along the new streambed and culvert area are to be done this summer. In addition, the company must monitor the restored section for several more years.
Commenting on relations between company and community, St-Onge admitted, “For many years there was no communication” between them. That has changed, however. A meeting between St-Onge and CVEPA President John Armstrong last August went very well, according to both parties.
In conversation with The Sun, Armstrong reported that it was “a good productive meeting, with a very good feeling going forward.” He noted that the quarry is “a fabulous resource” for the region, adding wryly, “Neither entity is going anywhere.” It also provides well-paying jobs for locals — some 25 in Marble and 30 in Delta.
St-Onge concurred, saying that relations are now “more normal.” He went on, “If they have questions, they feel they can be more confident that they can give us a call” and get answers. And he emphasized, “We take management of our company seriously. We want to do everything properly.” Armstrong said that they “have been helpful when asked.” St-Onge also mentioned the company’s philanthropic endeavors, including providing stone for the annual MARBLE/Marble Symposium and for the Youth Art Park in Carbondale and financial support for recreation activities in Delta.
Regarding the concern about CSQ expanding operations, St-Onge stated that quarrying would be limited to the company’s existing area and would not (as CVEPA feared) also extend to the east side of Yule Creek. He further explained, “The focus is on [the open-pit] and west portal areas for the next 60 to 75 years,” adding that there may be 100 years of marble left.
As for the gold-veined marble, St-Onge said that it has become one of the company’s most popular products. He noted, though, that the veining is not real gold but is probably iron pyrite (fool’s gold).