Routt County commissioners said yes to the Lafarge gravel pit, but not without mandating significant changes to the plan proposed by the company.
After four years of debate and a three-hour meeting Monday night, the commissioners made a final decision about the gravel pit proposed for the South Valley floor. In addition to approving the pit, the commissioners required Lafarge to remove plans for a concrete plant on the site, dedicate 128 acres of land for conservation easements when the mining is completed, disturb just 25 acres of land at a time, reduce the times when trucks can haul gravel from the mine and eliminate one phase of the gravel pit.
The gravel pit proposal has spurred a large public outcry, with some residents concerned that the pit would permanently scar the view of the South Valley floor from Rabbit Ears Pass and along Colorado Highway 131.
"I believe the visual impacts can be mitigated enough to allow the pit to occur," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "It doesn't mean I don't continue to have major concerns about the operation and whether or not they can be mitigated."
Friday's meeting lasted 2 1/2 hours, and Centennial Hall was much less crowded than it was when the commissioners postponed their decision Monday night. No public comment was allowed during Friday's meeting, and Lafarge representative Gary Tuttle spoke only briefly about the commissioners' recommended changes to the proposal.
Commissioner Doug Monger said the final decision most likely made no one happy, but he hoped it was the best move for the community.
"Gravel pits are the worst part of the job. It tears up the community. It tears up the commissioners. It pits neighbor against neighbor," he said.
Stahoviak said commissioners -- since their first meeting in 2001 -- clearly have stated the need for a gravel pit south of Steamboat Springs. Lafarge's proposal for a gravel pit on 128 acres of land on the More family ranch east of Colo. 131 is one of the few parcels in the South Valley large enough to accommodate a mining operation, Stahoviak said.
"What we have here is an area that needs some kind of gravel-pit operation, and the difficulty is finding where that gravel-mining operation can occur," she said.
The special-use permit Lafarge was requesting from the county sought permission to mine five smaller gravel pits, build a permanent concrete plant and a seasonal crushing and screening plant and a washing plant.
With an estimated life of 13 to 15 years, the five gravel pits would have allowed the company to mine in small sections. When the mining is completed in one area, the company said it would start the reclamation process.
Stahoviak recommended the elimination of the concrete plant, which she said would be an industrial operation in a rural area. Commissioners discussed the possibility of having Lafarge transport its materials to a concrete batch plant within the city limits, where industrial operations are allowed.
"We are asking to put some concessions on the city of Steamboat Springs to provide a concrete plant to take care of the needs of Steamboat Springs," Monger said.
Monger also proposed that when the mining operation is done, Lafarge should place the 128 acres it mined under conservation easements or preserve another, contiguous 128 acres within the Steamboat Springs Area Plan.
The stipulation would mean that Lafarge could either not redevelop the land into residential units or provide an equal amount of open space elsewhere.
"The intent of this is to protect from future development and non-double-dipping on the 128 acres," Monger said. "If they can't find it in the acreage they directly affected out there, then they have to go out and mitigate it the same way they mitigated wetlands."
Stahoviak also requested that Lafarge disturb just 25 acres of land at a time. Lafarge had requested to disturb 37 acres of land at a time, and Tuttle said they could live with disturbing 33 acres at a time.
Tuttle said the 25-acre limit would mean Lafarge could not mine all the gravel needed to meet the demands south of Steamboat. The restrictions would result in having to transport gravel from the west side of town or requiring another gravel pit to open in the South Valley.
"This is counterproductive," Tuttle said.
Stahoviak also recommended that the pit's hours of operation be reduced during the part of the year when fog is a problem. Stahoviak, who has commuted from Oak Creek to Steamboat for many years, said fog is worst from the middle of August to the end of May.
Residents had raised concerns about the dangers large gravel-hauling trucks could create on a stretch of road that often is very foggy and icy in the winter. Lafarge had proposed a fog mitigation system that would have alerted trucks to stop coming or leaving the mine when fog reached a dangerous level.
Stahoviak questioned the technology and suggested restricting trucks from hauling gravel until 10 a.m. from Aug. 15 to May 31.
"I have absolutely no confidence that (technology) will help. I don't want to have it on my shoulders if we have a failure of equipment," Stahoviak said.
The final change the county commissioners made was to eliminate the third phase of the gravel operation, a 9-acre mine that Stahoviak said was too close to neighboring properties.
After the meeting, Tut--tle said he didn't understand many aspects of the commissioners' decision.
"I am pretty confused about the whole thing," Tuttle said.
Ken Solomon, who worked extensively with the Concerned Citizens group that opposed the gravel pit, said he continues to think the gravel pit violates the county's zoning regulation that stipulates no new gravel mines should be visible from main entryways into the city.
"Obviously we didn't get what we wanted, which would have been no pit," Solomon said. "I am still struggling with how it will not be visible."
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