Lafarge sues county

Company argues conditions of pit approval

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— Lafarge has filed a lawsuit contesting the Routt County commissioners' ruling on its proposed gravel pit on the South Valley floor.

Although the commissioners approved the pit, Lafarge claims the five conditions they put in place were beyond their jurisdiction as county commissioners.

"It was an abuse of their discretion," Lafarge's Regional Land Manager Gary Tuttle said. "And we felt the conditions weren't supported by the evidence."

Lafarge West Inc. filed the lawsuit Monday afternoon, exactly one month after the county commissioners made their decision to approve the gravel pit.

At that meeting, the commissioners stipulated Lafarge had to remove a proposed concrete batch plant, place 128 acres into conservation easements after the mining is completed, eliminate one phase of the gravel pit, reduce the time trucks could haul gravel from the mine and disturb just 25 acres of land at a time.

Lafarge is asking a District Court judge to overturn those conditions.

Tuttle said the company plans to move forward with the gravel pit regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, which could take months to resolve.

"We are asking the judge to review the record, decide if the conditions are arbitrary and capricious and not supported in the record," Tuttle said.

Routt County commissioners Doug Monger and Nancy Stahoviak said they stood by their decisions that night.

"What we did at that hearing, the record will speak for itself," Stahoviak said.

The county will have to gather transcripts of meetings and other documents related to the gravel pit application, county attorney John Merrill said. After the records and briefs are submitted to the court, the judge could review the case and make a decision without holding a hearing.

The lawsuit is filed under the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 106, which allows people to challenge actions made by agencies, including county commissions.

Every time the county commissioners make a decision, they understand it could be challenged legally, Monger said. Before his decision in May, he personally discussed with the county attorney legal issues surrounding Lafarge's gravel pit permit, he added.

"I think we made compromises in our roundtable discussion. It was something we could support and justify and back up," Monger said. "I felt we did the best we could with the cards that were dealt to us."

The commissioners' decision came after four years of debate and two lengthy meetings in May. The proposal was for a 128-acre gravel mining operation east of Colorado Highway 131 with a life of 13 to 15 years. Opponents feared the gravel pit would permanently scar the South Valley floor from the entrance of Rabbit Ears Pass and Colo. 131.

One of the most significant conditions the commissioners imposed was the elimination of the concrete plant. Stahoviak said at the meeting that a concrete plant was an industrial use that belonged in the city, not the county.

The only other concrete plant in the area is west of Steamboat Springs, causing the company to have to truck its material across town to be processed.

"The record before the (commissioners) emphasized the need to reduce truck traffic through downtown Steamboat Springs as a matter of public safety and tourism, and also shows that location of the concrete batch plant at the sand and gravel mine would substantially alleviate such truck traffic through the downtown area," the lawsuit states.

Tuttle said other permits for gravel pits in the county have allowed concrete plants.

"The concrete plant was an integral part of our business and we had one in the South Valley for 15 years," Tuttle said.

The lawsuit also said the requirement to place the 128 acres into conservation easements on the land or another contiguous 128 acres of land would cost the company $1.3 million to $2 million.

Lafarge also argued it would take a monetary hit by not being able to mine the third phase of the mining operation, a nine-acre piece of land in the northern portion of the property.

Lafarge estimated that area contained about 500,000 tons of gravel, so lost revenue could be in excess of $4 million.

The lawsuit also stated that the commissioners' condition for mining to start after 10 a.m. from Aug. 15 to May 31 was not supported by any evidence in the record and was based solely on one commissioner's personal experience.

Residents had raised concerns about the dangers of large hauling trucks on a stretch of road that is often foggy and icy in the winter. Lafarge had proposed a fog mitigation system that would have alerted trucks to stop coming into or leaving the mine when fog reached a dangerous level.

During the May meeting, Stahoviak, who had commuted on that road, said she had little confidence in the technology Lafarge proposed to mitigate the problem. Instead she advocated changing Lafarge's road-usage times.

In the lawsuit, Lafarge claimed the 10 a.m. restriction would result in an accumulation of truck traffic on Colo. 131 at 10 a.m., regardless of fog.

The final condition Lafarge is opposing is the county's request to mine 25 acres at a time. Lafarge had proposed to disturb 37 acres at a time and the Routt County Regional Planning Commission had requested only disturbing 30. Lafarge suggested a compromise of 33 acres.

The number of acres to be disturbed was based on an analysis of the demand for materials coming from the mine. When Tuttle told the commission at the May meeting that the reduction in acreage would mean the gravel pit could not meet all the demand in the South Valley, one commissioner suggested they mine faster.

"While Lafarge can mine faster, it cannot expedite reclamation of the sight in light of Routt County's relatively short growing season," the suit states.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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