Steamboat Springs The Routt County Commissioners have called for an independent analysis of how the groundwater would affect cottonwood trees at a proposed gravel pit site south of Milner.
A final special-use permit asking for the new gravel pit between the Yampa River and Trout Creek has been tabled while the commissioners wait on that report.
The lawyer for petitioners Frank Camilletti and Precision Excavating was a little puzzled at the request because they had a professional engineer who specialized in water resource development and a biologist do similar studies.
"Paul (Currier) has done hydrology studies and tree studies" on the site, said attorney John Vanderbloemen.
Currier, who was also at the Tuesday night commissioners meeting, said he wasn't sure how the new study would differ from what he already did.
The commissioners made the decision to endorse another study after receiving a letter from known ecologist David J. Cooper, whose past studies were actually used to some extent by Camilletti's consultants.
Cooper claimed some of his material was used out of context and that further analyses on the site would help determine if cottonwoods were in danger from the pit and how problems could be "better" mitigated.
Camilletti consultants Paul Currier and Kelly Colfer defended their findings during the controversial meeting Tuesday night, saying Cooper must have not received all the information.
For example, Cooper had wrongly assumed that Currier said there would be little or no drop in groundwater levels below the cottonwoods.
"I said there would be little or no drawdown of water with mitigation," Currier said.
"He might not have gotten my entire report," said Currier whose report required water irrigation for surrounding cottonwoods, as well as other methods to keep the trees healthy.
Cooper also questioned whether irrigation would work in watering the cottonwood trees, because he feared the soil in that area wouldn't absorb water very well.
Kelly Colfer, a biologist consultant for Camilletti, said Cooper hasn't been to the site, but he has.
"The water goes right through the site and can go right to the roots of the cottonwoods," Colfer said.
"Camilletti has been irrigating out there for years," he said about the area south of Milner.
While the commissioners seemed somewhat focused on the cottonwood trees, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak also seemed concerned about the citizens who were still worried about the impacts on County Road 179 where the new pit would be located.
Vicki Ferguson brought in pictures of a gravel truck overturned on C.R. 179 last year, which she said isn't adequate to handle more heavy trucks.
Residents off C.R. 179 said a hay truck rolled over Friday, making it the third big truck wreck in a year. They complained some areas of the road cannot fit two trucks.
Ferguson also mentioned that a number of neighborhoods are going up around the new pit, not to mention its close proximity to Milner where about 350 people live.
Speaker after speaker talked about the cumulative effects of noise and pollution created by the pit and its big trucks, as well as visual impacts upon all the people living so near.
Jib Venti who lives in Saddle Mountain Ranchettes up above the pit said he doesn't begrudge Mr. Camilletti padding his living so he can continue ranching, but there were plenty of places for Camilletti to put his pit elsewhere with full public approval.
"I would rather him sell that land for millions to home builders, than see an industrial pit," Venti said.
"He's got the most. Why grant him something that will impact people with much less," pleaded Venti.
City Councilman Ken Brenner, who has been following the gravel pit controversy closely, said recently that all the individual problems listed by Milner residents are significant, but it's the Yampa River everyone needs to think about.
"We need to remember the Yampa River Corridor is our single most valuable resource," said Brenner who supports a mapping of Routt County that outlines potential gravel sites. Gravel pits are often located next to rivers.
"We can't have it (Yampa River) littered with gravel pits just because we want something close."
The county commissioners tabled the special use permit hearing until May 22. By then, they hope to have an independent study on the cottonwoods.