Gravel pit decision delayed

Board will not hear proposal until July 22

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— A decision anytime soon on a proposal to mine gravel in the south valley is wishful thinking.

That's what people who turned out Tuesday night to hear the Routt County Board of County Commissioners weigh in on Lafarge's plans for a mining operation learned.

The board will not take up the proposal again until July 22.

Commissioners decided to postpone their decision until they could draw on legal and expert opinions about the suggested environmental and legal consequences of a gravel pit on the proposed site.

"I'm not satisfied with what I know," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Lafarge would like to locate the mining operation six miles south of Steamboat Springs on Colorado Highway 131.

The company is asking for permission to operate a gravel pit in five phases within a 128-acre parcel on the More Family Ranch, as well as a permanent concrete plant, seasonal crushing and screening plant, washing plant and asphalt batch plant that would run on the site during the construction season.

Concerns were raised about Lafarge's legal authority to divert an irrigation ditch that runs through the proposed site and the impact of its reclamation plan on wetlands and the groundwater table.

Lafarge must reroute the water flow of the Suttle ditch to follow its mining plan. One Boulder attorney whose clients own water rights to the ditch warned that Lafarge had "no right to do anything to the ditch."

He suggested that the county was condoning trespass by granting Lafarge's request without requiring the company to first get permission from people who own water rights to the ditch.

The county is looking at hiring an attorney who specializes in water law to figure out what, if any, course of action Lafarge must take to avoid a legal disaster.

The board also talked about bringing in an outside professional to investigate criticisms of the proposed reclamation plan.

The company plans to mine around a strip of wetlands that runs through the property and use existing wetlands as the shorelines for several lakes and ponds during the reclamation process.

Fruita ecologist Michael Claffey argued that gravel extraction would negatively impact native vegetation and the proposed lakes and ponds would reduce the groundwater table and drain water from the wetlands.

"This wetland is toast, hydrologically," he said.

The proposal to bring another pit to the south valley spurred dozens of residents to voice their opposition to the placing a pit on largely agricultural land.

"To call a 50-foot asphalt plant, a 60-foot concrete batch plant and a gravel pit open space is to call BMC's lumber yard a forest," Ken Solomon said.

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