Our View: Gravel plan a good trade-off

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The Steamboat Springs City Council should look long and hard at approving the latest plan for Yampa Meadows. The proposal offers the best opportunity yet to get the unsightly gravel piles on the entryway into Steamboat Springs removed.

At a meeting Thursday, the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission endorsed the latest plan offered by property owner Ed MacArthur. Under the proposal, MacArthur would mine gravel at the Yampa Meadows site for two months each fall for four years. Crushing and screening gravel would happen on-site from August to November, and the sale of gravel would happen year-round.

MacArthur would donate $1 per ton of gravel sold to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, an estimated $500,000 to $600,000 for affordable housing. And at the end of gravel mining, MacArthur would donate 27 acres to the city for a public park. Of the remaining 60 acres, 12 would be used for eight home sites.

The proposal is a modification of a plan MacArthur brought before the Planning Commission in February. That plan sought to mine gravel for seven years and included 24 acres for a city park. The initial proposal received favorable response from planning commissioners, but the response from City Council was less favorable.

We think MacArthur's changes are significant and that council members should give the new plan serious consideration.

True, the location is in no way ideal for gravel mining -- of the handful of sites that have been considered for gravel mining in recent years, MacArthur's property scores the lowest on Routt County's gravel matrix. But given the need for gravel in the Yampa Valley and the short term of operation MacArthur has proposed, the long-term benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Yampa Meadows' history involves an often bitter battle among the city, the county and MacArthur. MacArthur originally proposed a 93-acre residential development at the site in 1997. Yampa Meadows was to include a 16-acre ski lake surrounded by homes and was to be annexed into the city limits. But that spring, after months of work and significant investment by developers, the City Council pulled the plug on the development, citing flooding concerns.

MacArthur responded by moving ahead with plans to dig the ski lake. He began digging in 1999, and wanted to take the resulting gravel off site for use in construction projects. The county saw MacArthur's move as the equivalent of operating a gravel mine without a permit and issued a cease-and-desist order.

Recognizing that he still could dig as long as he didn't use the resulting material, MacArthur finished the lake and piled the gravel on the site. The property hasn't changed since.

We don't condone MacArthur's methodology. But unlike those who think MacArthur should never be allowed to mine gravel at the site as punishment, we think there are ways to make amends.

A city park in a prime location and up to $600,000 for affordable housing isn't a bad trade-off for a limited gravel operation.

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