Pit proposal project to be reviewed

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— How the Routt County Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners make decisions on gravel pits in the future could change.

In the past 15 months, the county's planning department, with the assistance of gravel pit officials and residents concerned with the issue, has established guidelines for future pit proposals.

The committee has created the Gravel Matrix, which is to help applicants, staff and decision-makers evaluate the impacts of proposed mining operations.

The guidelines are an attempt to establish a "level playing field" where all existing and proposed pits are evaluated with the same objective criteria, said John Eastman, a county planning official who works on gravel pit applications.

"This is not a regulatory document," Eastman said. "The matrix is to help officials make decisions a little easier and based on objective criteria.

"This will compare every existing and proposed pit with the same yardstick."

The proposed gravel pit evaluation guidelines will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at its 6 p.m. meeting tonight. The meeting will be held in the hearing room in the county courthouse annex, 136 Sixth St., in Steamboat Springs.

The Board of County Commissioners will review the 35-page guidelines next week.

The county's planning staff started to work on the guidelines at the request of the county commissioners in the fall of 2000.

Because a gravel pit application is complex, difficult and sometimes controversial, the board wanted the staff to come up with guidelines that address issues that were being brought up by county officials, the applicants and concerned residents.

"We had several gravel pit hearings that were very controversial," Eastman said. "Many times the opposition and those in favor of the pit were quoting sections of the county's master plan. Some of those terms in the master plan needed to be clarified."

The Gravel Matrix identifies how county officials, applicants and residents are to analyze existing and proposed pits in regard to visual impacts, reclamation, air and water quality, traffic, land-use compatibility, wildlife and supply and demand.

For every existing or proposed pit, each of these issues will be analyzed and given a rating 100 is the best possible score and 0 is the worst.

"We will not give an overall rating," Eastman said. "If a proposed pit scores poorly across the board, it probably is one that won't be approved. If a pit scores fairly well but there are a couple of areas that score low, those can be worked on."

One of the most controversial issues county officials and the committee are hopeful can be mitigated by the Gravel Matrix is the issue of visual impact.

The county plans to use technology to determine visual impacts by using geographic information systems software. A map of the proposed pit will be created that will also include neighboring residences.

By using this technology, county officials will be able to determine which residences are likely to be able to see the gravel pit. Maps with one-half, one-, two- and three-mile zones will be created.

The committee stopped its zone at three miles because it agreed the visual impacts of a gravel pit are not significant past that distance.

Proposed pits will also be scored on how close they are to a scenic quality area, land identified as being important, and to recreational areas, public campgrounds, state and city parks, ski areas and golf courses.

Eastman said he does not expect for the guidelines to create additional work for the county's planning department. Issues such as traffic and air and water quality will be handled by consultants. The Colorado Department of Wildlife is expected to provide information on the wildlife impact issue.

Eastman said if the Planning Commission and county commissioners approve of the document, the guidelines will be used immediately.

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