Landowner seeks permit to mine gravel

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— Now that the dust has settled from the numerous gravel pit issues that were points of contention in the county during the past several months, one might think things might settle down for the summer. Well, think again.

On Thursday, landowner Ed MacArthur, in conjunction with Elam Construction, will ask the Routt County Planning Commission for a recommendation for a conceptual special-use permit to mine gravel on up to 45 acres of his property just south of Steamboat Springs.

Right now, the land has a water-ski lake and three large piles of gravel on it, which is on the west side of U.S. 40 by the Shop-n-Hop gas station.

The actual petitioner for the gravel pit listed at the county is the Yampa Meadows LLC, owned by Bald Eagle Lake LLC and High Plains Properties LLC, which are associates of Native Excavating (owned by MacArthur) and Elam Construction.

Estimates for the pit show 4.4 million tons of gravel would be mined in 30 years if a permit is granted.

"The gravel is excellent," MacArthur said.

"It's very good quality and a very large vein."

County planning staffer John Eastman said compared to other gravel pit proposals that were applied for in the past year, this could be the worst location of them all.

"This is the first time I've said (this early) that this is not really a good place for a gravel pit," Eastman said.

Though its impacts on wildlife, the wetlands and the Yampa River have been raised as issues, the primary concern is its visual impact on the southern gateway of Steamboat Springs and the fact that the property is in the 100-year flood plain, he said.

But MacArthur said the need for gravel in the south valley is an issue that can't be ignored, which will be his best card to play during the Planning Commission meeting Thursday.

"The bottom line is that we have to get gravel where there is gravel," he said.

In the south valley, Lafarge Corp. is running the only pit and the permit and the gravel are both running out.

"We should have enough material to get us through this season," said Bruce Daniels, area manager for Lafarge.

He said by next March, when the permit runs out, people building in the south will have to look for gravel elsewhere.

MacArthur buys 200,000 tons of gravel from Lafarge for the work Native Excavating does on the south side of Steamboat. If that amount needs to be bought from a pit on the west side of town, it would result in about 26,666 more truck trips through downtown Steamboat to get to the work on the south side of town, MacArthur said.

The county has received numerous letters from surrounding property owners in opposition of granting the permit. The city wrote three letters expressing its opinion on the matter, two directly relating to the pit dated Dec. 4 and May 9 and a third dated Dec. 12 discussing gravel pits in general.

The Dec. 12 letter states: "We believe that no application at all should be accepted for new gravel pits in the south valley area. We say this because we do not believe that any argument can be made that could outweigh the importance of maintaining the historic pristine condition of the area."

Eastman roughly estimated that contractors working in Steamboat Springs alone use 1 million tons of gravel and 1.6 million tons countywide used mainly for building construction and road work.

Whether that gravel will come from the south valley in the future is being decided on as each applicant seeks a permit to mine.

Last year Lafarge applied for a conceptual permit to extend its operations in the south valley.

After seeking a recommendation for approval by the Planning Commission, the Routt County Board of Commissioners did not recommend Lafarge to proceed with the permit process, which killed the proposal.

Lafarge will come back to the county in the near future to ask for a permit to mine on south valley property owned by Moore Family Ranches LLC.

Last July, the Steamboat Gravel Co. applied for a permit for the same land but withdrew its application months later.

Despite the negative comments about the proposal and Lafarge being denied in the south valley last year, MacArthur said he believes that once the facts are on the table that a pit on his land will make sense.

But this won't be the first time the former Steamboat Chamber Resort president has had controversy about the property.

In 1997, MacArthur and two partners proposed to create a 19-home subdivision at the site and asked to have it annexed into the city limits so they could provide the homes with city water.

That generated negative comment from some members of the public and resulted in more than 300 residents signing a petition against allowing the project to go through.

The Steamboat Springs City Council approved a development permit for the project but denied annexation on second reading, killing the project.

In 1998 the water-ski lake was constructed, which resulted in the piles of gravel, and plans to develop homes on the 91-acre site were announced. Those homes were not built.

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