Justin Hirsch: Sold down the river


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.

Justin Hirsch

Steamboat Springs


ybul 6 years, 9 months ago

First, the US is not a pure democracy it is a constitutional republic, if I am not mistaken. The founding fathers realized the potential pitfall of the majorities will being imposed upon the minority. The first action of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, wether to mine gravel on their property or from being discriminated upon.

A mitigating factor for you fears of pollution should have been a bond to cover any clean up costs associated with said pollution. Though as gravel pits exist next to waterways across the country, there is little risk of serious environmental damage. It is not like a the broken oil pipeline on the Kalamazoo river in Michigan or the oil leak in the gulf. There is a risk of total dissolved solids increasing in the event of flooding, however, they will increase because of erosion from the river banks also.

As far as a gravel pit being the door mat for Steamboat Springs, we can not dictate what an individual does with their land and in the long run as opposed to a gravel pit there will be another pond with waterfowl and a watershed for wildlife to congregate around.


Fred Duckels 6 years, 9 months ago

Justin, I assume that civilization will inhabit this valley for hundreds, if not thousands of years after our departure. The south valley has gravel reserves beyond my comprehension and we are most fortunate for this gift. We seem to have some egotists that can comprehend the whole picture for the future and decide now, what is best. In my opnion we need to keep all options open for our ancestors and trust in their decisions. The ski area at Catamount was scuttled in favor of those deciding what is best for the folks. Could there be a day when we long for this area as we continue to push recreation as our forte? Let's take two scenarios, one allowing gravel pits, and the other letting the normal development occur. Then let's revisit in a century or two and compare the outcome. I think the gravel pit option would win hands down to ranchettes. Your pollution option is bogus when compared to the alternative, polluton is closely nonitored by the state. We need to keep the gravel pit option alive in this area, common sense dictates this as other reserves are limited. I dont have all the answers and I don't think anyone does, but I hope for the wisdom to not micromanage on a subject this vast.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 9 months ago

Though, the "advantages" of the pit should be included in the conditions of the operating permit. If an advantage of the pit is that it is supposed to reduce truck trips through downtown then it obviously cannot provide gravel for projects west of downtown. If the gravel is trucked west of downtown then it would be adding to downtown trips, not reducing.

The other issue with local gravel pits is that they are closely tied to a particular excavation contractor as compared to being independent of the contractors. So if material is needed then Connell is going to take it from their pit and so on. Which means that if Connell has a job in Stagecoach, then they will still truck it through downtown. I am not picking on Connell, just using them as an example.

Also, while the South Valley is designated as an area of open space, the definition of open space includes gravel pits. From a common sense point of view, there are any number of other activities that are not allowed in South Valley that are less of an impact to the idea of open space than operating a gravel pit. UPS operating a warehouse designed to look like a barn would better conform to the idea of open space than operating a gravel pit. Or even a condo complex designed to look like a 12,000 sq ft mansion would have less of an impact.

I think the biggest issue is that if the South Valley is supposed to be "preserved" as "open space" then the definitions need to be redone so that they do keep it looking open. Mansions with massive outbuildings or gravel pit is not looking like open space.


Tubes 6 years, 9 months ago

What I find odd about this and the other editorial regarding this matter is that they both make it sound as if a gravel mine in South Routt is something new. Didn't there used to be two gravel mines just across the street from this location that were not only closer to the Yampa River but located even more so in the 'prime scenic corridor' than this one? I don't recall any of the above outlined (rather severe) impacts being the case with either of those two mines. If so, surely we would have learned from that and not ever let it happen again.


sledneck 6 years, 9 months ago

Gravel Pits are awesome! I want one when I grow up.

A lynch mob is a democracy. Democracies suck.


Ben Tiffany 6 years, 9 months ago

Is there any sort of restriction placed on the operators of this new gravel pit that would prevent them from returning across town to deliver gravel to projects north and west of downtown? If not,then perhaps the biggest touted advantage to building this gravel pit would seem like a fraudulent one. It seems like a better location could have been found as well.


sledneck 6 years, 9 months ago

The restriction is $$$$. Nobody is going to pull a load of gravel one mile farther than they must. Of course, the owner of the pit might be the exception since they own the product at considerable discount. Most of the trucks in and out of any gravel pit WILL be at the closest one to their job. Most trucks WILL avoid going through town. Not all but most.


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