Our View: Lafarge pit should be approved

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Routt County commissioners should approve the Lafarge gravel pit on Friday.

We understand the concerns of those who oppose the pit, which is proposed for 128 acres on the More Ranch in the South Valley. Opponents have argued the pit will create unwanted noise and traffic and be an eyesore in one of the Yampa Valley's most scenic areas.

We are sympathetic -- No one wants to look at a gravel-mining operation. But so long as the community needs roads and housing, such pits are necessary. Having the gravel close to construction reduces costs and lessens the impact on the community. Currently, there is no gravel mining on the southeast side of Steamboat.

It has been more than four years since Lafarge first began seeking a replacement pit for its gravel-mining operations just off of Colorado Highway 131. The company settled on a plan to mine gravel at the More Ranch property in 2003 and offered a proposal to the county that included a crushing plant and asphalt plant. The proposal scored well on the county's own gravel matrix, outscoring the county average in six of eight categories.

Still, the county postponed a decision in 2003, seeking further information and mitigation from Lafarge.

In the two years since, Lafarge has secured permits for the site from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the state Health Department, the Federal Emergency Management Association and the Colorado Division of Mining and Geology.

It has agreed to build an improved intersection and turning lane into the plant on Colorado Highway 131.

The company's first reclamation proposal, which included a lake and some trees, was roundly rejected. The company has since agreed to reclaim the site with five lakes, 15 acres of wetlands and more than 2,800 plants. It has posted a $270,000 site reclamation bond with the Division of Minerals and Geology.

John Eastman of the Routt County Planning Department said the "quality of Lafarge's reclamation plan blows away any reclamation plan that has ever been approved for a gravel pit in Routt County."

Finally, the company agreed to eliminate the asphalt plant, raising the pit's score on the gravel matrix higher.

Gary Tuttle, the manager of resource development for Lafarge's Western Region, said he has never seen a process as arduous as Routt County's in the 25 years he has been in the business. "This has been a lengthy and rigorous process, but it has resulted in a better plan for the community and for the environment," he said. "The process works."

Lafarge plans to mine 5.2 million tons of gravel over the 13-year to 15-year life of the pit. At today's prices of $6 to $7 per ton for gravel, that's $31 million to $36 million for the company. Given the potential revenues, Lafarge should be held to extremely high expectations. But by all measurable standards, the proposal does meet such expectations.

For more than a decade, Lafarge operated two gravel pits covering 204 acres in the South Valley. At any one time, up to 70 acres were disturbed. The reclamation plans for those pits left much to be desired.

This time, Lafarge wants to mine 128 acres with no more than 30 acres disturbed at any one time, and the reclamation plan is the most extensive and expensive the county has ever ordered.

Lafarge has been asked to do more than any gravel pit operator in Routt County in order to acquire a special use permit for the More Ranch. The county should approve that permit and focus its efforts on making sure Lafarge follows through on the strict standards it has agreed to meet.

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