Steamboat Springs People holding their breath to hear what the Routt County Planning Commission has to say about a proposed gravel pit in the south valley will have to wait until next week.
The Planning Commission put off until Monday its decision on Lafarge's plan for a mine six miles south of Steamboat Springs on Colorado Highway 131.
Planning commissioners decided to table their recommendation after several hours of personal testimony from residents opposed to the pit and rebuttals by those who would like to see the operation move forward.
"I would like a chance to reflect on and absorb," Commissioner John Ayer said.
The Planning Commission posed questions to Lafarge representatives and opponents of the plan but commissioners did not express their personal views. Commissioners said Thursday night's lineup of speakers provided too much information to immediately digest and act upon.
The Routt County Board of County Commissioners needs the Planning Commission's recommendation before it can decide Lafarge's fate on April 22.
The majority of those who aired opinions before the Planning Commission Thursday opposed the pit.
They are concerned a pit along Highway 131 will permanently alter the landscape and detract from the south valley's rural character.
Lafarge spokesperson Gary Tuttle said his company went to great lengths to minimize the pit's visibility from Highway 131 and U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass.
Revised plans moved the pit's main operation from the west end to the southeast end, a move Lafarge said tucks the plant into the hillside.
Tuttle estimated motorists on Rabbit Ears Pass would see the gravel pit for about 22 seconds.
His timetable was 22 seconds too long for many residents.
"We bought property here because of those 22 seconds," Rindall Rowe said.
A mining operation would forever alter visitors' and residents' perception of the south valley, he added.
South valley resident Dave McDonald acknowledged the quandary that exists between the demand for gravel and the desire for an aesthetic landscape.
"Aggregates are a part of our life," McDonald said. "It's a necessary evil." He questioned whether a better location for a pit south of Steamboat exists.
A few speakers found fault with Lafarge's reclamation plan.
"It's a golf course with an awful lot of hazards," Ed Ryan said of the company's proposal to fill out mined areas with a series of lakes when the pit runs out of gravel in 12 to 15 years.
Ryan said he did not trust Lafarge to follow through with plans to restore the property.
Others did not trust Lafarge's proposal to protect existing wetlands within the 128-acre parcel on the More Family Ranch. The company plans to mine around a strip of wetlands that runs through the property.
Fruita ecologist Michael Claffey studied the effect of Lafarge's mining operation on wetlands and wildlife and argued gravel extraction would negatively affect native vegetation and animals.
"They are high quality wetlands, and they serve a lot of important functions," Claffey said.
Several people laced their comments with traffic concerns. Fog often settles on the south valley, and the idea of commuters mixing with heavy haul traffic on Highway 131 when visibility is poor did not sit well with many residents.
Ken Solomon described the situation as a "formula for sadness."
Tuttle assured the Planning Commission that Lafarge is working on a plan to respond to foggy conditions, and if necessary, to halt operations until the fog lifts.
The Planning Commission closed public comment, but Lafarge has an opportunity Monday to refute what was said Thursday. The hearing continues at 6 p.m. in Centennial Hall.