Photo by Scott Franz
Steamboat Springs resident Virginia Cannon voices her opposition to a proposed gravel pit south of Steamboat at a public meeting in front of the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. “Gravel operations are not compatible with agricultural operations and the environment,” Cannon said.
Steamboat Springs The Routt County Board of Commissioners used every bit of 4 1/2 hours Tuesday night to reach unanimous consensus in favor of the Yampa Valley Sand and Gravel pit project.
The mine six miles south of Steamboat Springs could produce more than 300 tons of crushed rock annually for two decades, assuming the construction industry recovers sufficiently to create the demand. That would add up to more than 300 truck trips a day.
Developer Ed MacArthur said he already has worked on the project for two years and likely would need at least another year to begin production.
“If you think you need gravel in the south valley, the time to start is not when things really get going,” McArthur said.
Commissioner Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak noted that the county has been engaged in discussions about the possibility of a gravel pit on the 135-acre site just north of the Colorado Highway 131 bridge over the Yampa River since 2001.
“We’ve been looking at this site for a gravel pit for many, many years,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘We have to look at this; make it go away.’”
She debunked what she called a mistaken impression among a significant number of people opposed to the project that the scenic pocket valley where the Yampa flows out of Catamount Reservoir was a protected open space in the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan.
“Once again, I have to emphasize, that is not true,” Stahoviak said. “Early in the process, a circle was drawn around it, but it was never (formalized).”
Carol Iverson felt differently.
“My husband and I run a small contracting company,” Iverson said. “We’ve dealt with Ed MacArthur for many years on many projects. He’s always been a very professional man. But I’m not for this gravel pit.
“This valley, that part of the valley, was determined by Routt citizens to be one of the prime view areas, and it’s just not the place for a gravel pit. You cannot mitigate noise from above. Diesel pumps are loud. The crusher is loud. If you let this thing go through, you’re sacrificing the public trust in how we wanted this valley to stay for probably the next 100 years.”
Ron Krall told the commissioners that MacArthur hasn’t provided detailed enough information to back his demand projections for gravel.
“We do not have good evidence of what is the current and future supply for gravel,” Krall said. “Other plants are operating below capacity — as low as 25 percent.”
But Jim Gill countered Krall’s argument.
“There is no reason for Ed MacArthur to spend time and money to open a gravel pit if there wasn’t an anticipation of the need. Some of the opponents of this project probably benefited from other gravel pits that operated here for the last 15 to 20 years.”
Many members of an audience of more than 65 people had filtered out of the Commissioners Hearing Room when the final vote was taken, but even as they neared the finish line, the commissioners willingly took suggestions from concerned neighbors as they crafted the final language on 38 conditions of approval for the gravel pit.
“The applicant says the gravel piles will be wet, and there will be no dry gravel on the site,” David Josfan said. “Will you be sure there’s a condition to that effect? That’s very, very important to us. The wind would carry the dust right up the hill to our house.”
“There is already a condition requiring the applicant to control fugitive dust,” Stahoviak reassured Josfan.
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said her first inclination was to table the matter until she could receive more assurances that estimated truck trips were solid, but the two other commissioners convinced her that they could hammer out conditions that would mitigate the public impacts of the gravel pit.
“I wouldn’t be in favor of tabling,” Commissioner Doug Monger said. “I actually approved (a previous gravel pit proposal on the same site) in 2005, and this mine plan is exceptionally better than the Lafarge plan in terms of reclamation and noise. I said in ’05, the best way to disperse the impacts of the mining operation is that everyone gets to share them.”
He noted that his west Routt ranch is in close proximity to three gravel pits and the lights of the Hayden Power Plant and Yampa Valley Regional airport.
“All of our meadowlands (throughout the county) are protected environments,” Monger said.