Editor’s note: Justin Hirsch is a graphic design artist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
The gravel pit has returned. And with it, high stakes, hot tempers, and high blood pressure for many. I for one received the news of the unanimous approval of the Steamboat Sand and Gravel pit by the Routt County Board of Commissioners quite bitterly. It seems as though Steamboat’s core values have been sold out to corporate interests in the name of profits, without adequate consideration of the negative effects on the greater Steamboat community, not to mention the negative feelings. The drawbacks appear numerous, and the positives few and far between. But let us analyze the situation fully before we jump to emotional conclusions.
First, I think the most pressing question to be explored is the necessity of the pit. Do we need it? The answer to this actually might be yes, if reducing truck traffic through town and reducing transportation costs and emissions is a deciding factor.
That being said, the next question is, do the negative effects of the new pit outweigh the positive of reduced cross-town truck traffic, and will it actually do that? This is more questionable, to say the least.
How much demand does south Routt County actually create, and how much will be trucked out of county, or back cross-county, to serve Ed MacArthur’s development needs at a reduced cost to him? Does this justify a possible 300-plus additional trucks per day on Colorado Highway 131? This remains to be seen, but I would lean toward absolutely not.
Additionally, is this the best location for a mine in South Routt? Being close to town and in a prime scenic corridor, the answer here also appears to be no.
To be honest, though, my main concerns in this matter are environmental and political.
What will the impact of a large 300-million-ton mining operation be on the Yampa Valley and its watershed? Was this a fair decision for the people of Steamboat and Routt County? In my opinion, bad and no are the simple answers there.
Gravel deposits are found along riverbeds, and as such, a gravel mining operation such as the Steamboat Sand and Gravel pit puts the river in jeopardy.
The nature of any mining operation inevitably will create increased risk of pollutants, which become more dangerous and mobile throughout the ecosystem when introduced near river systems.
In a nut shell: The Yampa will be more polluted than before. For a town that depends on its pristine environment and river for endless uses, this is an unacceptable risk, especially because Steamboat is stop No. 1 downstream from the mine.
This brings me to my next point: this was not a fair decision for the people of Steamboat and greater Routt County.
Did anyone ask you whether it would be OK to risk polluting your water? Did they ask you whether you would be OK with a gravel pit as your welcome mat? What about endangering motorists and cyclists as they roll down Colo. 131?
I was not consulted. A small, poorly publicized hearing in which a majority of citizens expressed concern, and a callous Board of Commissioners unanimously voted “yes” is not my idea of good listening skills, or a properly functioning democracy. Steamboat was sold down the river, along with Steamboat Sand and Gravel effluent.