Steamboat Springs The Routt County Planning Commission voted, 8-1, Thursday night to recommend approval of Alpine Aggregates’ request for a permit to mine gravel at a site along Colorado Highway 131. The site is close to the Yampa River below Lake Catamount.
Plans for the Steamboat Sand and Gravel Mine will come up at another public hearing before the Routt County Board of Commissioners on July 27. Plans call for mining 300,000 or more tons of gravel a year for 18 to 20 years, while disturbing no more than 25 acres at any given time. All of the gravel would be crushed and screened on site. No concrete or asphalt would be produced on the site.
The vote came despite the protests of residents of the area who urged the commissioners to recommend protecting the scenic view corridor near the base of Rabbit Ears Pass.
“We bought our property 10 years ago and ever since that time, I think we entered gravel pit hell,” Bill Wallace told the commissioners during a public comment period. “We gushed like everyone else when we came over that pass (for the first time), and then went through the (previous) Lafarge proposal. Now, we’re sitting here talking about putting a toilet in our living room, and we’re worrying about the seat.
“This doesn’t make sense. I don’t know how to stop this. This is what the community said we wanted to preserve — this part of the valley.”
However, a majority of the commissioners cited the continuing need for gravel in the South Valley and observed that there has been a series of gravel pits, some with concrete or asphalt batch plants in the South Valley throughout the years, without significant adverse effects.
“I think I can support this application as it is written,” Planning Commissioner Jay Gallagher said. “There is a need for gravel in the South Valley. Yes, there are some concerns about the view sheds, but I think they’ve done a good job of mitigating (that issue). I’m confident the placement of crushing and processing area at the foot of the mountain really will mitigate the view both from above and along (Colorado) Highway 131.”
Rosemary Post, who lives high above the pit in Timbers Preserve, disagreed.
“It disturbs me immensely that the Highway 40 corridor has never been discussed,” she said. “We haven’t heard one word about the impact on the quality of view travelers on Highway 40 get of the valley. I hate to say it, but it reminds me a little bit of British Petroleum saying, ‘If you can’t see the oil slick, it really doesn’t really matter.’ The Highway 40 corridor is tremendously important to Steamboat’s economy.”
Donny Beaver, who acquired majority control of the Tailwater Ranch trophy fishing stretch of the Yampa in March, asked the commissioners for more time to work on issues with the gravel pit developers. He said his property boundary with the proposed gravel mine property is 600 feet from the river.
Andy Benjamin cast the lone dissenting vote on the Planning Commission. He cited concerns about traffic safety. Benjamin worried about the mix of heavy trucks with sometimes unpredictable passenger vehicles.
“I don’t think this is the right place for a gravel pit, even though we need a gravel pit,” Benjamin said. “The safety issue is still very much on my mind. People drive not just fast there, but slow.”
Traffic safety also was on the minds of the county commissioners in the fall when the Alpine Aggregates proposal was going through a pre-application review. Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak has been adamant about increased safety measures in light of the fog that develops in the vicinity when the cold air of fall and winter hits the relatively warm water of the Yampa where it issues from the Lake Catamount dam.
Accordingly, gravel pit developer Ed MacArthur said he has agreed to abide by a restriction that would prevent him from trucking gravel away from the site before 10 a.m. from Aug. 15 through May 1. He added that although a traffic study indicated no need to build an acceleration lane for gravel trucks exiting the mine, he will agree to build one to enhance safety for motorists.
MacArthur contended that his gravel pit also would provide a public benefit by reducing the need to haul aggregate through downtown Steamboat from other pits west of the city.
“There’s a demand over the next 10 years of 2.9 million tons of gravel” south of Steamboat, he said. “That’s 270 truck trips through town if this is not out there. We believe the lessening of truck traffic through town is significant.”
The planning commissioners agreed.
“You answered everything that we brought up at the last meeting,” Planning Commissioner Donna Hellyer told MacArthur. “We did have a gravel pit across the road years ago very close to the river. You could see it from Highway 40.”