Gravel pit owners changed plans

Preliminary approval of Lafarge plan given because county recommendations followed

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— The Routt County Planning Commission's recommendation to approve a proposed gravel pit south of Steamboat Springs was based on changes the developer made to an earlier plan that take into account the strong public concerns on the issue.

The pit, referred to as the Werner Pit, would be developed by Lafarge Corp. on the west side of Colorado 131, across from the Haymaker Golf Course, on property owned by Fran Werner.

Lafarge, which last year was denied a special use permit to develop the pit, presented its latest plan to the planning commissioners on Thursday night. The commissioners found the new plan responsive to their earlier objections, and voted 6-1 early Friday morning in favor of recommending its approval.

The recommendation of approval is now directed to the county commissioners, who will review and possibly give their final approval to the proposal at a meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at Olympian Hall.

Last November, Lafarge was denied a recommendation for approval for the pit. The commission noted at the time that the proposal went against the South Steamboat Area Plan, the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and the Routt County Master Plan.

The main concern was that too much land, 75 acres, would be disturbed by the mining and impair the visual beauty of the south valley. The commissioners said they wanted Lafarge to regenerate the land that had already been disturbed, and recommended that Lafarge develop a plan to close and reclaim the company's North Pit and South Pit.

Lafarge returned with a plan that limited the amount of land disturbed at one time to 45 acres, showed the closure and reclamation of the other two pits and promised to build and seed dirt berms to shield the visual impact of the mining.

The deal was a trade-off. Lafarge would close and reclaim the 95-acre South Pit and the 55-acre North Pit by 2002. In return the Werner Pit would be allowed to open if it disturbed no more than 45 acres at one time. That would reduce the amount of land disturbed by 105 acres.

Planning Commission Chairman Troy Brookshire took the lead in supporting the proposal, with the changes. He noted that no development plan in Routt County actually prohibits gravel pits. Instead, they refer to "mitigation," which is what Lafarge is doing.

"We have a chance to clean up the South Pit and get it cleared up quickly," Brookshire said. The South Pit is farther down Colo. 131 from the Werner land.

The vote to recommend approval of the plan followed an hour of public comments, largely negative, from influential residents of Steamboat Springs, including City Council Chairman Kevin Bennett, Councilwoman Cathy Connell and local attorney Tom Sharp.

Most speakers said they did not support the reclamation proposal that Lafarge presented at Thursday's meeting, and asked that it be denied because of the location.

"I'm confused," landowner Mike Holloran said after hearing Lafarge's presentation about the reclamation of its other two pits in the area. "All we're looking at tonight is a 10-year permit for the Werner property."

The proposed mine, referred to as the Werner Pit, would be the third open mine in that area. Though changes were made, landowners said the proposed Werner Pit was still not compliant with the community plans.

"It's still the same area and it's still the wrong area," Holloran said.

Virginia Cannon and her husband, Mike, grow hay on land adjacent to the proposed mine. She said that the Werner Pit would go against the language in the South Steamboat Area Plan that protects agriculture. The plan ensures that non-agricultural uses are compatible with adjacent agricultural lands.

"It has been my experience that the grass growth is reduced by dust," she said.

The pit will inevitably create dust which will blow onto the adjacent property, she said.

Other landowners said the berms will not shield the visual impact of the pit from property owners at higher elevations.

"The bulk of the properties affected sit on elevated areas," landowner Rick Johns said.

Steve Wood, vice president of Lafarge Corp.'s Western Division, admitted in rebuttal that the site cannot be hidden from higher elevations.

However, the gravel pit has to go where the resources are, he said. If Lafarge is forced to move farther south where he claims the rock isn't as good, a less effective plan would inevitably be proposed. Lower quality rock means a larger hole would have to be dug to get sufficient quantities of gravel to make the pit economically viable.

"I firmly believe there needs to be a pit on the south valley floor," Wood said.

The growth in Routt County needs to be supported by concrete, and that takes gravel, he said.

Only Lafarge's South Pit is producing material. It will be dry in a two years. The North Pit is home to a concrete and asphalt plant.

The Werner Pit has 7 to 10 million tons of gravel reserves with a 23- to 33-year life span, Wood said.

Andre Bollaert, a local independent trucker, spoke in support of the pit.

"Most people who are speaking against this already have their houses built," he said. "Nobody wants a pit, I don't care where you live. But a pit's got to go where the gravel is."

But another pit sponsored by the Steamboat Gravel Company is on the drawing board in south Routt, which could be a better location. It would be located at the base of Rabbit Ears, near where Colo. 131 crosses the Yampa River.

Steamboat Gravel Co. agents claim that the pit would not be visible from Colo. 131 or U.S. 40 and would have reclamation procedures similar to those of the Werner Pit.

That conceivably could be a better area, said Routt County planner John Eastman. However, he said it was doubtful Planning Commission would approve both pits.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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