Cheers to the Routt County Regional Planning Commission for having the guts to recommend approval of the proposed Lafarge gravel pit just south of Steamboat Springs.
We know that gravel pits are unwelcome neighbors just about anywhere, so we understand the anger and frustration felt by those who live close to the land where Lafarge wants to dig. But gravel pits can't be dug just anywhere. They have to go where the gravel is.
What we liked about the Planning Commission's vote was not so much that it recommended approval of a gravel pit, but that it acknowledged Lafarge's work to reduce the impacts of the pit. That work was done at the urging of the same Planning Commission.
When Lafarge first went before the county last November with its plan for the Werner land near the intersection of Colorado 131 and U.S. 40, it proposed building a pit that would have torn up 75 acres and lacked appropriate visual screens such as berms. In addition, there were no plans for the company's two other pits in the valley.
More than a dozen residents spoke out strongly against the plan. The Planning Commission realized the impacts of the proposal were too great and that the mitigation required by planning guidelines was missing. Because of that, Lafarge's proposal was unanimously recommended for denial.
Between November and July 20, Lafarge did what was asked of it. It reduced the size of the Werner proposal by 40 percent, from 75 acres to 45; it developed plans for visual screens; and it proposed to phase out its other pits as the Werner Pit came on line.
As in November, many residents made impassioned pleas July 20 for the commission to recommend denial. All were given a chance to speak their minds by the chairman, Troy Brookshire, and many used persuasive arguments as to why the gravel pit shouldn't be built in their back yard.
But in the end, the planning commissioners voted with their heads, not their hearts. It was the appropriate thing to do. Lafarge had done what they asked and the proposal met the requirements of pertinent community plans. Voting to recommend denial again would have been a bureaucratic bait and switch.
The recommendation now goes to the county commissioners who no doubt will hear the same arguments against the pit that the Planning Commission did. The commissioners have a tough job ahead of them. We urge them to follow the lead that has been set: listen to everyone, but vote based on logic, not emotion.
In simple terms, the planning process in this county should be like a concrete sidewalk. If you stay on the path, you should be able to reach your goal, whether you're proposing a luxury subdivision on a hillside or a gravel pit down below.