When it comes to gravel, the Routt County Board of Commissioners has a long memory.
On Tuesday night, County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak told developer Ed MacArthur of Steamboat Sand and Gravel that he would be asked to live up to most of the same stringent requirements placed on an applicant four years ago before winning a permit to mine gravel along the Yampa River south of Steamboat Springs.
"I continue to believe there is a need for a gravel resource south of Steamboat Springs," Stahoviak told MacArthur. "The commissioners and staff did a lot of good work in 2005, and I don't want all that work to go to waste."
MacArthur's company is seeking permission to mine about 300,000 tons of sand and gravel a year for 18 to 20 years on a little more than 100 acres (only about 38 acres would be mined) of the former More Family Ranch just north of where Colorado Highway 131 crosses the Yampa River. Stahoviak said county regulations would allow him no more than 10 years of mining.
The Steamboat Sand and Gravel proposal is just beginning the public process, and Tuesday's pre-application hearing was intended only to allow the applicants and their consultants to hear feedback from the commissioners and the public. No vote was taken.
The commissioners told MacArthur they would seek more assurances that the gravel mine would not disrupt the hydrology of the meadows bracketing the Yampa nor domestic wells in the area. They want more details about how he would use conveyor belts to move aggregate materials from mining pods to the crusher on site.
They may impose stricter hours of operation to reassure themselves that dump trucks hauling gravel won't cause a safety hazard when the river shrouds the highway in a cold fog. And finally, they want more data to show that there's a need for the materials the mine would produce.
MacArthur, an excavating contractor, isn't the first to give a gravel pit on this site a try. A Steamboat man, Jarle Halsnes, advanced a similar plan as early as 2000. He was replaced by Lafarge West Inc., a large gravel mining company, which began a protracted effort to win county approval.
Many of the 55 people who packed into the commissioners' hearing room at the Routt County Courthouse were neighbors adamantly opposed to the gravel pit who have danced this waltz before. Some of them, thinking they had already slain their dragon, asked why they had to fight the same fight all over again. Stahoviak had an answer.
"Everyone has a right to submit an application to the county," she said. "On land zoned ag forestry, gravel pits are a use allowed by a special use permit. We, as commissioners, have to determine whether there are negative impacts. If there are, we have to determine whether they can be mitigated. That's the process we've started tonight."
The commissioners received a thick sheaf of e-mails opposing the Steamboat Sand and Gravel proposal. Many were short and to the point like one written by Laura Cordier: "The gravel pit is unthinkable! I vote no."
Nelson Burrell worried in his letter about the possible impacts on the Yampa River: "It has no public benefit," he wrote, "but rather adversely affects the quality of life for all residing in the area, harms environmentally the Yampa River, and air quality, creates noise pollution and truck traffic dangers."
MacArthur reminded the gathering that unlike Lafarge proposed, he doesn't intend to install a concrete or asphalt batch plant on the site of the mine. That should reduce truck traffic from the site, he said. And giving contractors the option of not having to haul gravel through the traffic bottleneck on the west side of Steamboat would be an even greater public benefit, he said.
He went a step further, promising to place deed restrictions on the property that would prohibit those plants in perpetuity.
"I have a lot of friends in this room," MacArthur said. "I have no intentions of losing friends we'll work through this as best we can."
However, he frankly acknowledged that a gravel pit is what it is.
"There are place on U.S. 40 where you will be able to see mining operations from your car during certain phases," he said. And he added that he was working with his closest neighbors, homeowners Jace Romick and Ren Martyn, on their concerns.
Romick said the terms of his contract with Eloise More for the purchase of his property prohibited him from formally opposing the gravel pit. But he asked the commissioners to look out for his water interests.
Martyn said he was bound by no such constraints.
"I am opposed to the pit," Martyn said. "I question whether we really need a pit in this location. Do we need to impact this window into the community?
"The question of providing acceleration and deceleration lanes on the highway need more detail. We need to do everything we possibly can to make sure it's a safe intersection."
Lafarge ultimately won approval for its gravel mining operation on May 20, 2005, but found the conditions placed on the approval so onerous that it took the county to court over some of them. The county prevailed, and Lafarge withdrew. Yet Lafarge representatives were in the hearing room Tuesday night.
Commissioner Doug Monger agreed with Stahoviak that the constraints put on the original Lafarge permit would provide a starting point for the Steamboat Sand and Gravel application.
"It's a baseline for where we need to go," Monger said. "I still support a pit in the south valley floor. We've been consistent in following our master plan, which calls for smaller gravel operations to more directly serve their own areas."
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush urged MacArthur to avoid issues that would require mitigation.
"The south valley is a very special place," she said. "It's been acknowledged since the 1980s. For that reason, we have to be very careful with this proposal."
To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org