The opposition to the gravel operation proposed by Lafarge on the More Ranch south of Steamboat Springs is significant. Opponents say the pit will create unwanted noise and traffic and be a blight on perhaps the Yampa Valley's most scenic area.
While we understand such concerns, we believe they are outweighed by the justifications for the pit and that Routt County commissioners should approve Lafarge's application with some conditions.
The conditions were recommended by the county's Planning Commission and include reducing the area within the site that will be disturbed from 40 to 30 acres; requiring the proposed asphalt plant to be used on a project-by-project basis; and requiring Lafarge to complete reclamation of its existing pits within six months of opening its new pit.
No one wants to look at a gravel-mining operation. But so long as the community needs roads and housing, such pits are necessary. Having the gravel close to construction reduces costs and lessens the impact on the community.
There are but several properties between Steamboat and Oak Creek that are practical for mining gravel. At present, the More Ranch is the only property available.
Lafarge has the only pits in the south valley. In the past three years, almost half of the total gravel provided by the eight pits in the Steamboat Region has come from Lafarge. The company is the county's largest supplier, selling about 27,000 truckloads of gravel, concrete and asphalt each year.
Lafarge's south pit closed in December. The north pit will close by April 2004. But demand will not disappear when Lafarge's pits close. There are still about 700 vacant parcels of land in the south valley. Gravel will come from the pits west of Steamboat, meaning it often will be trucked through town at a higher cost. While south valley residents may be willing to pay that higher cost to keep a pit out of the neighborhood, taxpayers should not shoulder an extra burden for building and maintaining infrastructure when a more efficient option is available.
According to the county's gravel matrix, the proposed Lafarge pit will have less of an impact than its existing pits. The proposed pit outscores the current pits in six of seven categories -- visual, reclamation, traffic, land use, wildlife and cumulative. In fact, the proposal outscores the county average in five categories and outscores the Duckels-Hogue pit, whose 10-year permit extension and expansion plan were approved last year.
The pit's lowest score comes in water and air quality. As proposed, it is the only pit in the county seeking to operate both a concrete and asphalt plant on site and it includes one of the largest disturbed areas of any county pit. Limiting use of the asphalt plant and reducing the disturbed acreage would more than double the pit's water and air quality score.
Opponents have argued that the Lafarge proposal is in the middle of an area that the community has said it wants to preserve as open space. But allowing a gravel pit on site is a great way to prevent it from being subdivided. The pit would give the community about 15 years to decide whether to acquire and preserve the site, whose reclamation plan includes five lakes and about 1,800 trees and shrubs.
The proposed pit fits within the county's requirements for the area, scores well on the county's gravel matrix and fulfills community demand for gravel. If Lafarge can meet the conditions cited, its application should be approved.