County planners OK gravel pit

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The Routt County Planning Commission recommended that a proposed expansion of a Toponas gravel pit be approved Thursday night.

King Mountain Gravel LLC can expand its 10-acre gravel mining operation to a 184-acre pit that will be mined in phases. An asphalt plant and crusher are allowed.

However, planning commissioners expressed concerns that the mining could affect the greater sage grouse. Routt County's second largest population of the bird, which is a species of special concern in Colorado, lives and breeds near the gravel pit.

Planning Commissioner John Ayer said that if the grouse populations were harmed and the birds eventually were named threatened or endangered species, there could be huge effects on all of Routt County. He supported approving the plan for a short period, at which point any negative effects could be reviewed before irreversible damage took place.

King Mountain Gravel has agreed to work closely with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to prevent negative effects on the bird and reclaim land after it is mined.

Planning Commissioner Fred Nichols applauded that cooperation and said he thought the plan was well thought-out.

To prevent the grouse from being harmed, parts of the applicant's property will be seeded with mixtures of vegetation attractive to grouse. Noise mitigation, including decreased hours of operation while the birds are breeding, also was required.

Libbie Miller, district wildlife manager for the Colorado DOW said that the applicant was very willing to work with the DOW, but that the project was a cause for concern because grouse populations are so low.

In its recommendation for approval, the Planning Commission also decreased the annual tons the company can mine. The applicant had requested to mine 250,000 tons of gravel a year, but consultant Paul Gesso said that number likely would be closer to 100,000 tons a year. The Planning Commission agreed that King Mountain Gravel could mine 150,000 tons of gravel, which would decrease the traffic coming to and leaving from the mine.

The planners also agreed that the applicant should pay $1 per ton hauled to help pay for road improvements.

If approved, the permit would last for 10 years, at which point, a review would be necessary.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners will consider the request April 12.

No residents spoke against the proposed pit, but several supported it. Planning Commission Chairman Donald Alperti told the public that there had been no comments comparing this pit to the controversial River Valley Resource site that Lafarge has been pursuing.

No comparisons were made during the meeting.

However, after the meeting, Ken Solomon and Sam Marti said they thought the King Mountain Gravel site could take the place of the River Valley site, though the King Mountain Gravel site is much farther from Steamboat Springs. Solomon and Marti are part of Concerned Citizens, a group opposing Lafarge's proposed River Valley site, and both supported the King Mountain site during the meeting.

"Certainly this is an alternative," Solomon said. Although King Mountain would not supply Steamboat, it could supply growth in Stagecoach and other parts of South Routt County.

"There's no need for (the River Valley site)," Solomon said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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