After weeks of media attention and public hearings grappling with gravel pits, a group of residents are gathering petitions to ask for a moratorium in Routt County.
The action is confusing to the Routt County commissioners, who say the outcry against gravel pits is a bit hysterical at this point.
"The level of screaming is premature," Commissioner Ben Beall said. "The level of hysteria." added his colleague, Nancy Stahoviak for emphasis.
One of the leaders in that fight, Rick John, a local developer, said it's not hysterics or screaming, it's preventative medicine.
"I've been in real estate development for years, and when the momentum is going, it's very hard to shut it down," said John, who fears that several proposed gravel pits will coast through approval without much consideration.
The petition asks the county commissioners to withhold approval of any new gravel pits until there's time to do a study on the actual need for new pits and the best places to put them.
"Everything I hear rumblings about are things we're already addressing," said Stahoviak. "We haven't even considered a formal application yet. Even the Lafarge hearing Thursday is conceptual."
Up to six new gravel pits are already in or are headed for the county planning pipeline. Of immediate concern to John and others in the south valley is Lafarge Corp.'s "Werner" pit that's being considered for conceptual approval Thursday night by the county commissioners. The pit would be right across Colorado 131 from the Haymaker Golf Course.
"It's one of the most visible and esthetically pleasing areas in the south valley," said John. If the pit goes there, he added, "You will be about anywhere in town and look down and see a big crater."
John and others emphasize they aren't against gravel pits. He even says one is needed in south Routt, but he believes studies are needed to figure out the best places for them. "We have five to seven years of gravel reserves, the urgency is not great," he said.
A spokesman for Lafarge agreed with John that gravel pits are definitely needed in south Routt County, but pointed out one important fact. "There's supposedly five to seven years of gravel reserve left, but that's on the west side of town," said salesman Steve Totman.
Totman added there's only one pit in south Routt and that belongs to Lafarge "We'll run out of material next year," he said. "We're eating it up like crazy. "
And what happens when Lafarge's current pit runs out and there's no other pit in the south? More big trucks may be using downtown Steamboat as a thoroughfare.
"All the material will have to come through town," Totman said.
Lafarge's manager of public affairs, M.L. Tucker, said representatives of his company have been working on the proposal for nearly two years now.
"We're making commitments going above and beyond what's required" for making the new pit blend into the environment, Tucker said.
She pointed out that if Lafarge receives approval for the pit, the company will do "concurrent reclamation," a process of removing gravel in phases then quickly fixing up those parts to blend in with the natural surroundings.
Tucker also said the actual plant will not be built at ground level, but deeper into the ground to help minimize the visual impact.
Still, John and others want to emphasize that the petitions being presented to the commissioners on Thursday are from a cross-section of people in Routt County, not just folks who live near Lafarge's proposed site. "This is a community issue, it's not a 'Not in my backyard' issue," John said.
Other gravel pits that have been petitioned include the More Ranch which also is in the south valley, and which some people believe is a better location than Lafarge.
The proposed Camilletti Milner No. 2 pit near Milner is being criticized for its site next to Trout Creek and the Yampa River where bald eagles nest and locals ride and walk along the river.
Other proposed sites are by Ed Hockin Trucking 3 1/2 miles west of Hayden; and an existing Camilletti Gravel Pit two miles east of Hayden wants to add on to its pit. Another potential site, the Yampa Meadows gravel pit located on the Yampa River just south of Steamboat, hasn't been formally presented to the Planning Commission.