Alpine Aggregates cleared to haul gravel in mornings when fog doesn't obscure highway

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— The Routt County commissioners voted, 2-1, on Tuesday to amend an existing gravel pit permit and allow the operators of Alpine Aggregates to monitor potentially dangerous fog conditions at their entrance on Colorado Highway 131 themselves. That means they will make the determination about when there is sufficient visibility to allow heavy trucks to enter and leave the gravel pit just north of the highway bridge over the Yampa River and about 7 miles south of Steamboat Springs.

Commissioner Steve Ivancie cast the dissenting vote.

The vote changed the gravel pit’s county permit and means that the pit no longer will be constrained from hauling gravel before 10 a.m. between Aug. 15 and May 1. That’s the time of year when cold air temperatures colliding with the relatively warm water coming out of the Catamount Dam is known to sometimes create fog banks in the area of the highway.

After hearing Alpine Aggregates owner Ed MacArthur say during a public hearing Nov. 26 that his staff had kept daily records for a year and saw very few low-visibility fog mornings, Ivancie’s colleagues Doug Monger and Tim Corrigan indicated they were open to relaxing the permit and allowing the mine foreman to monitor visibility and open the pit for hauling at 8 a.m. year-round when there is no danger. The matter was tabled until this Tuesday to allow the final language in the amended permit to be written.

Ivancie said he thought the original permit approval anticipated MacArthur would observe daily conditions at the pit for at least two years before the hauling hours were revisited. He also expressed concern Tuesday that the new system places significant responsibility on the gravel pit foreman to make the decision.

“It’s subjective, and it puts a lot of pressure on that superintendent or his second in command,” Ivancie said.

The amended permit requires the manager of the gravel pit to go out to the highway first thing in the morning and determine if a pair of bright orange signs placed 771 feet to the north and south of the entrance are obscured by fog or not. On days when the signs are visible but there is fog in the area, he is required to return to the highway every 30 minutes and repeat his inspection until it is clear that the fog has dissipated entirely.

Ivancie added that he and Monger agreed that MacArthur’s addition of acceleration and deceleration lanes for gravel trucks near the pit’s entrance, as required by the original permit approval, significantly added to highway safety in the vicinity.

Ivancie added that the commissioners agreed to reference the language of the original permit in the new documents as a historic record.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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