Commission votes down gravel pit

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— After months of intense pressure from citizens in the Steamboat area, the Routt County Board of County Commissioners voted down a conceptual plan to build a new gravel pit near State Highway 131 and Werner Lane.
Cheers and applause erupted as the commissioners voted 3-0 to scrap plans laid out by Lafarge.
However the unanimous vote doesn't tell the whole story.
Earlier in the evening, it appeared two of the commissioners were leaning toward approval of the conceptual plan.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak made her intentions clear early on.
"I feel there are things in this proposal that cannot be mitigated," Stahoviak said. Stahoviak pointed to several factors, most importantly the visual impact on the south Yampa Valley.
"This is an area that has been identified as a preservation area in our community plan. There are long-term impacts here... I have a concern about a 50-60 acre lake in that area," Stahoviak said.
"You and Dan (Ellison) have the ability to out-vote me but I can't change my mind about this," Stahoviak told colleague Ben Beall.
Lafarge had plans to build the new pit near its two other gravel pits that are in the process of winding down and closing.
"Ten years ago, you asked us what we want," said McLeod. "Our number one priority was to protect ranch lands and open space."
But Commissioner Ben Beall said if anything, the new Lafarge/Werner pit located next to a ranch, would protect agriculture.
"A pit next to an ag place has no effect on ag operations," Beall said.
In fact, local landowner and Lafarge employee Pete Totman accused opponents of wanting to make a quick buck.
"Three people in the front row have land to sale there and others talking tonight are real estate developers," Totman said.
As for the visual impact on the proposed gravel pit site, both Beall and Commissioner Dan Ellison played them down.
"When you get to Dakota Ridge, the visual impact from the tennis bubble has more impact than the pit," Beall said.
Ellison also said he drove around the neighborhoods where people complained that the pit would be unsightly.
"The visual impact from up there looking to the left and seeing the city, was insignificant," Ellison said.
But Beall seemed most disturbed by the argument that the south Yampa Valley was protected by the South of Steamboat Plan and its language requiring that visual, noise and pollution be mitigated to preserve the south valley's beauty.
"If this one (Lafarge/Werner pit) is not approved, all the other pits in the south valley cannot be approved based on this criteria," Beall said.
That response prompted cries from the audience and a quick response from Stahoviak who said each pit proposed in the south valley would be judged on its own merits.
In the end, Beall and Ellison caved in to a public lobby against the new pit. Beall cited the visual impact to neighbors.
One of the few people who spoke in favor of the Lafarge/Werner pit warned residents that this vote set a bad precedent.
"The county needs to take a stand that gravel pits are critical to the survival of a community," said mining engineer Dave McDonald, who pointed out he recently paid $100/yard for concrete.
"If we start saying we like this pit and don't like this pit... we may not have the mineral resources to live in this community," McDonald said.
McDonald also criticized the commissioners for saying the project couldn't be mitigated.
"Mitigated from where? Outer space? Rabbit Ears Pass or Mount Werner. The criteria is not defined enough," McDonald said.
Meanwhile, Lafarge officials who have been trying to perfect the pit proposal for a year were obviously disappointed.
"We've got to regroup and figure out what to do," said Lafarge spokeswoman M.L. Tucker.
Lafarge always has the option of coming back to planning commission with a new proposal, starting the process over again.


To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208 or e-mail fhohl@amigo.net

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