Alpine Aggregates is presenting its plans for a gravel pit in the South Valley to the Routt County Regional Planning Commission tonight. The pond on the site was left by a temporary gravel pit used in the widening of Colorado Highway 131.

Photo by Tom Ross

Alpine Aggregates is presenting its plans for a gravel pit in the South Valley to the Routt County Regional Planning Commission tonight. The pond on the site was left by a temporary gravel pit used in the widening of Colorado Highway 131.

County Planning Commission to review gravel pit

Proposal would include contributions to Housing Authority

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At a glance

Steamboat Sand and Gravel Mine

- No asphalt or concrete plants

- Life of pit: 18 to 20 years depending on market

- Anticipated mining: 300,000 tons per year

- Proposed hours of operation: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays as needed in summer

- Plan to mine 5 acres at a time while reclaiming previous 5 acres at the same time

- Visual screening in the form of more than 350 cottonwoods on berms, as well as wetlands enhancement, would be done at the front end of the project

If you go

What: Routt County Planning Commission meeting

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Board of Commissioners Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave.

Call: Routt County Planning Department at 879-2704 for more information

— Plans for a controversial South Valley gravel pit first proposed earlier this decade have returned - but intense public opinions about the proposal have not.

The Routt County Planning Commission today will review a pre-application for the proposed Steamboat Sand and Gravel Mine and a subsequent Land Preservation Subdivision, or LPS. The proposal is for 147 acres - 87 of which would be mined - six miles south of Steamboat Springs on the east side of Colorado Highway 131.

On Tuesday, county planner Ross Easterling said he was surprised and concerned by a lack of public comment on the proposal, which is similar to a LaFarge West project approved by the county in 2005 after years of heated debate.

"It was contested quite heavily" before, Easterling said. "It's kind of concerning that this has gone under the radar. : In any event, I just wanted to make sure the public is aware of this."

The LaFarge permit was never executed and expired. LaFarge had filed a complaint in Routt County District Court contesting several provisions of the permit including the requirement of a conservation easement, the elimination of a concrete batch plant, fog mitigation requirements, restrictions on hours of operation and a limit on the maximum area of site disturbance. The court ruled in favor of the county.

Chip Coe and Jarle Halsnes are representing Steamboat Sand and Gravel, but Ed MacArthur is shepherding the proposal through the planning process. MacArthur is the managing partner of Alpine Aggregates, which would operate the gravel operation if it is approved.

County regulations require mining operations, at their conclusion, to reclaim mining sites and create an "aesthetically pleasing site or reclaimed area that will blend with or improve upon the surrounding areas." The county prefers agricultural land or wildlife habitat. Steamboat Sand and Gravel Mine is proposing the creation of an LPS with five, 5-acre home sites and a remainder parcel of 107 acres that includes 37 acres of lakes. While the applicant argues the resulting LPS meets the requirement for an "aesthetically pleasing site or reclaimed area," Easterling said county planners have concerns.

"It's kind of a double-dipping," Easterling said. "What we look for is land to be mined and then left as a benefit : to kind of give the neighbors a break after years of putting up with it."

Benefit ideas

Since the proposed mining operation includes more than 10 acres and will last for more than five years, the proposal also is required to provide additional public benefit. For every acre more than 10 that is mined, the county requires that another acre within a five-mile radius be placed into a conservation easement. Alternatively, the county commissioners can accept what they deem an equivalent public benefit in the form of open space, trails, hunting access, fishing access or other conservation easements.

Steamboat Sand and Gravel Mine and Alpine Aggregates, however, propose donating a total of 20 cents to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, of which MacArthur is president, for every ton of gravel extracted. At full production within 20 years, that would amount to a $1.2 million contribution to YVHA.

"Our interpretation is (public benefits) are meant to benefit neighboring or adjacent property owners," Easterling said. "They're asking for a broader interpretation of that."

In July, MacArthur said he would take measures to obscure the mining.

"We'll recess ourselves down 15 to 20 feet and surround it with a berm and cottonwoods to where nobody on (Routt County Road 16 accessing Lake Catamount) or 131 will be able to see us," MacArthur said.

Application materials for the proposed mine state that benefits of the project include ensuring the provision of sand and gravel products locally into the future and lessening the truck impact from other gravel operations through downtown Steamboat.

The pre-application process is an informal step in the county planning process that allows county officials and developers to discuss conceptual plans and concerns. Feedback will be solicited, but no formal action will be taken, at tonight's meeting. The Routt County Board of Commissioners will review the pre-application next at 6 p.m. Oct. 13.

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