Lafarge to seek delay on decision

Gravel company has concerns to address

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— Lafarge will ask the Routt County Board of Commissioners to delay a decision on the company's plans for a controversial gravel mine in the south valley.

Efforts by Lafarge to address concerns about wetlands and a ditch that runs through the proposed site prompted the company's request for a delay.

Lafarge is seeking a permit to for a new mining operation six miles south of Steamboat Springs on Colorado Highway 131. The company would operate the gravel pit in five phases within a 128-acre parcel on the More Family Ranch. Under the proposal, the operation included a permanent concrete plant, seasonal crushing and screening plant and washing plant. The company has eliminated an asphalt plant from its plans.

County commissioners originally considered the permit request on April 22. At that time, the county postponed a decision until July 22. The commissioners said they wanted to draw on legal and expert opinions about the suggested environmental and legal consequences of a gravel pit on the proposed site.

Now Lafarge wants the county to push its decision back a few more months. A hearing is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. June 24 for Lafarge representatives to seek the delay.

Concerns were raised during the April 22 hearing 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, but Boulder attorney Steve Bushong argued that Lafarge had no legal right to divert an irrigation ditch that runs through the proposed site.

Bushong, who represents about a third of the people with water rights to the Suttle ditch, warned that Lafarge could face legal action if it touched the ditch without first getting water right holders' permission.

The county began looking into water law to figure out what, if any, course of action Lafarge had to take to avoid a legal disaster.

Now Lafarge is admitting that it did not get permission from downstream ditch users.

The company may need a court order to divert the ditch, county planner John Eastman said.

A later hearing date would give the U.S. Corps of Engineers time to determine if Lafarge could alleviate impacts of the proposed mining operation on the wetlands before the county makes its decision. 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 at the April 22 hearing that gravel extraction would negatively impact native vegetation and proposed lakes and ponds would reduce the groundwater table and drain water from wetlands. Claffey spoke on behalf of Concerned Citizens, the grassroots organization opposing the mining operation.

Lafarge would like the federal study in the commissioners' hands before they decide its fate in the south valley, Eastman said.

The proposal to bring another pit to the south valley spurred hundreds of residents to voice their opposition to placing a pit on largely agricultural land. Concerned Citizens is encouraging people who oppose the proposal to attend the June 24 hearing.

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