The majority of Steamboat Springs City Council members said they would tolerate a four-year mining operation inside city limits if it meant getting rid of old gravel piles.
At Tuesday night's council meeting, Ed MacArthur presented revised plans for a four-year gravel-mining operation on an 88-acre site just south of city limits and off U.S. Highway 40. MacArthur is asking the city to annex the land.
MacArthur's revised plan shortens the mining period from seven to four years, lessens the amount of gravel mined from more than a million tons to between 500,000 and 600,000 tons and proposes a donation to the city of between $500,000 and $600,000.
Council members said little about the donation, which would be funded by a $1 surcharge that MacArthur said he would put on every ton of gravel sold from the land. MacArthur has said the donation would go to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.
Most of the comments made by council members focused on the need to remove the two large piles of gravel already on the site and what the best public benefit of the land would be.
In the reclamation phase of the project, MacArthur proposes to turn 12 acres into eight single-family lots and donate 27 acres of land for a city park. Currently on the site is a lake with a ski jump used by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for freestyle skiing and snowboarding summer training.
Council President Paul Strong acknowledged that a gravel-mining operation is not part of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, but he said the end product would compensate for the four years of mining. The applicant proposes to mine only two months of the year to avoid conflicts with nearby wildlife.
"To me, it is the light at the end of the tunnel. It will get us out of this quagmire," Strong said. "(It is) the wrong place, the wrong thing to be doing there, but it might be better than another decade of seeing piles of gravel."
Strong also said that allowing a gravel pit on the site would not set a precedent for similar operations in the future.
Council members Nancy Kramer and Loui Antonucci agreed that the gravel-mining operation would be worth the end result and that it was time for the project to move forward.
"It is time to move on. We can not get there -- and we all seem to want to get there -- until we compromise and drop the attitudes at the door," Kramer said. "I think the applicant has done a good job of putting in public benefit."
Councilwoman Kathy Connell said that both sides need to compromise and did not rule out MacArthur's gravel-mining operation.
MacArthur told the council that if this plan did not work, he was unsure of what else could be done to meet the city's demands. He said there was no more public benefit to be had.
"I guarantee no profit will come out of this for us," MacArthur said. "My energy level has come to an end. I'd like to see it done. If we are not there yet, there is nothing more I can give to give you public benefit. I am at the end of the rope."
In March, five out of the seven council members said the land was not suitable for a gravel pit. At that meeting, the council members strongly encouraged MacArthur to remove the two existing piles of gravel.
On Tuesday, Council members Ken Brenner, Steve Ivancie and Susan Dellinger said they did not think the gravel-mining operation belonged inside city limits and said it went against the community plan.
"What is the motivation for the city to annex this property? We are taking on responsibility for eight home sites, and what are we getting for it? I don't see the benefit," Ivancie said.
Brenner proposed that the city buy the land and turn it into open space. Although other council members said they liked the idea, they did not think it was feasible.
Close to 50 people waited in Centennial Hall until after 9:30 p.m. to hear the council deliberate the project.
Some residents recommended the city demand more community benefit from the gravel-mining operation, noting that MacArthur went against Routt County regulations when he began to excavate the gravel.
Others said the community should move on and that MacArthur had provided more than enough public benefit.
MacArthur's Tuesday night presentation constituted a pre-application for his proposed gravel-mining operation. No official vote is taken during a pre-application review, but council members give feedback about the proposal.
MacArthur must submit final plans to the city before the Planning Commission and City Council can take official action on the proposal.