As long as there is a need for new roads, housing and buildings, there is a need for gravel. And the only way to keep the cost of that gravel reasonable is to locate the gravel pit near the construction where it is used.
Currently, there are 20 gravel pits in Routt County, eight of which serve the Steamboat Springs area. Those pits are expected to produce enough gravel to last another five years.
So if new construction is going to continue in and around Steamboat Springs and it will then there can be little debate about the need for new gravel pits.
But when it comes to deciding where to locate new gravel pits, history has shown us there is likely to be plenty of debate and it is likely to be heated. Need proof? Witness the public hearings about the gravel pit Lafarge Corp. proposed for the More Ranch southeast of Steamboat Springs or the Camilletti pit near Milner.
Unfortunately, during such debates, it can sometimes be hard to separate the "not-in-my-backyard" rhetoric from the legitimate concerns.
That's why it was encouraging to hear the county has adopted a plan to better evaluate gravel pit proposals. A committee of county planning officials and gravel industry representatives worked more than a year to develop the matrix, which county commissioners reviewed and approved this week.
The matrix provides guidelines for analyzing existing and proposed pits for visual impact, reclamation, air and water quality, traffic, land-use compatibility, wildlife and supply and demand. For every proposed pit, each area will be analyzed and given a rating between 0 and 100, with 100 being the best possible score and 0 the worst. Existing pits will also be evaluated.
Such ratings contain a fair amount of subjectivity, and county commissioners will not be bound by the ratings in deciding on proposed gravel pits.
But at least the matrix provides a reasonable means of comparing proposed pits with each other as well as existing mines. That should lend a sense of fairness and logic that often has been lost amid the shouting during previous gravel pit debates.