It literally was the foundation of new construction and roads that resulted from a growth spurt in Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley in the '90s; everyone is benefiting from it and the need for material won't go away, Routt County planning staffer John Eastman said.
"Over the last four years, we've been selling gravel four times faster," Eastman said.
About 99 percent of that gravel stayed in the county and it averaged about 780,000 tons a year.
But quantity and quality of gravel isn't the problem. The county has maps showing good gravel deposits throughout the valley. The problem is location, location, location.
"There is a lot of gravel out there; it's just finding a reasonable space to mine it," Eastman said.
Officials estimate there is 4.2 million tons of permitted gravel from the eight pits that serve the Steamboat Springs area. That is estimated to last five years. When it comes to finding new pits or renewing permits to guarantee gravel for the future, commissioners consider the location for its visual impact on the valley, its environmental on the valley and how close the pit is to where the material is going to be used.
The latter is considered mainly because the cost of trucking gravel exceeds the cost of material if it is shipped farther than a half hour drive, Eastman said. But concerns also have been raised about trucks hauling gravel all over the county.
When Lafarge's north and south pits are completely tapped out in a couple years, there will not be another open pit in the south valley which is considered to be south of Steamboat and north of Stagecoach and the Oak Creek Canyon. However, west of Steamboat is dotted with nine open pits, according to county maps.
The question is whether another pit in the open space of the south valley is needed.
Lafarge is looking for another place to mine there, but that is proving to be a difficult job. It failed to gain approval to mine a new site near its north and south pits more than a year ago off Colorado 131 near Haymaker Golf Course. South valley residents came out in hoards against the proposal. Now the company turned its energy to a new site on the More family ranch.
The same opposition is out there for this proposal. About 100 people packed into the hearing room at the Routt County Courthouse on Thursday night to hear Lafarge's preliminary proposal the Routt County Planning Commission for the More property. Many people sat on the floor and leaned against the wall for hours. Others, who couldn't fit in the room, took turns peaking their heads through the door to catch an earful of the conversation of the four-hour meeting.
Locals showed commissioners that the proposed site has problems with site and noise, would destroy between eight and 12 acres of wetlands and causes traffic safety problems. A pit in the south valley, according to many locals, also would go against various community plans that state the open spaces in the south valley should be protected.
Some of the planning commissioners told Lafarge officials that the company will have to find ways to address the site problems if they want an approval, while others questions if the site was right or if a pit is really needed in the south valley.
Gary Tuttle, director of land for Lafarge, said the company needs a pit in the south valley because it is the closest place to their customers. He said most of the customers are working on projects in the developments in and around the Steamboat Ski Area that equated to 80,000 tons of gravel last year.
"If you have an operation in the south valley, you can get it there faster and less trucks will be on the road," Tuttle said.
He said he is optimistic.
Planning Commission Vice Chair Diane Mitsch Bush questions the need for a pit in the south valley. She said the majority of future construction projects might not be where they were the last five years. If they do occur south of Steamboat, it might be way south, such as Stagecoach. If so, a spot farther south could be considered.
"The south valley is an area that the county has spent a lot of time preserving," Bush added, referring to words in the community development plans and work done by land trusts to keep the area in its rural state. However, there are other sides to the story, Bush said.
For instance, longtime ranchers who have considered gravel pits are big reasons the south valley is in its rural state. For 113 years, the More family and part owner Gonk Jacobs kept the 670-acre ranch largest continuous parcel in the south valley today in agricultural production while some of their neighbors sold out to developers. Meanwhile, the ski hill was built and the tourism industry took over, partly fueled by the open space ranches such, as the More's, kept. Now the economics of ranching has gone down hill and alternative sources of incomes are being sought, she said.
Planning Commissioner Fred Nichols and Commission Chair Troy Brookshire stood behind that view on Thursday.
"Maybe the people who are concerned with the view should ask themselves what they have done to preserve it," Jacobs told the planning commissioners on Thursday.
On the other hand, explained local Rosemary Post, who lives on Rabbit Ears Pass and said she'll be able to see a portion a pit on the More ranch, roots in valley doesn't make tearing up the land for pit any more legitimate.
"These are not poor, destitute ranchers looking for a buck," she said.
"I'm upset about the ecological problems with tearing up the land," Post added. "It involves anyone who lives in the south valley."
Plus, in a time when people are concerned about tourism and nobody is certain what the needs of gravel will be in the future, is not a time to put open spaces in jeopardy, she added.
Bush said the sides of gravel story are numerous and solutions where everyone wins are out there. However, they will only be found with all the issues on the table during an open debate.
To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail email@example.com.