Steamboat Springs Gravel pits generate more public debate than almost any other topic in Routt County, and now a pit that has been in the news for more than a decade is back in the public process.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners at 2:45 p.m. Nov. 26 is expected to take up a proposal by Ed MacArthur, of Alpine Aggregates, seeking relief from constraints placed in July 2010 by the commissioners on gravel hauling hours at Steamboat Sand and Gravel pit.
The constraints were imposed as conditions of approval for the permit allowing gravel mining at the pit near the Colorado Highway 131 bridge over the Yampa River. They were intended to address concerns that autumn and winter fog events near the river could lead to a traffic hazard where heavy gravel trucks from the pit turn onto the highway.
MacArthur already has constructed significant improvements to the highway near his access road, including acceleration lanes.
The Yampa at that point has just flown out of the Lake Catamount dam, and it’s thought the river water that is warmer than the air during the cold months generates early morning and evening fog banks
This week, former Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who stepped away from her post almost 11 months ago after 20 years as a commissioner, has rejoined the debate. In a letter to the current board, she wrote that she doesn’t think the current planning staff analysis of the proposed amended permit goes far enough to remind the present board members of the background behind the imposition of the constraints.
“The staff reports states ... that a review of the history of the permit would not be provided and would concentrate solely on the request to amend the hours of operation,” Stahoviak wrote to the board this week. “I feel that taking this approach does a great disservice to the many, many citizens that took the time to comment on the traffic safety issues.”
When the old Board of Commissioners voted to approve the 109-acre gravel pit (no more than 25 acres disturbed at once) about 600 feet from the Yampa, it stipulated that gravel hauling could not begin before 10 a.m. between Aug. 15 and May 1, when fog is most prevalent.
Now, gravel pit owner MacArthur, who agreed to the limited hours three years ago, is seeking relief from the limitations in the form of an amended permit.
He has applied to the county for an extension of the hours, saying that after watching and documenting the atmospheric conditions for a year, there have been only a few days when visibility was impacted.
According to Routt County Planning Department staffer Jennifer Valentine, MacArthur is proposing instead to assemble an email list of regular gravel haulers from his pit and putting in place an automated alert system “to notify drivers of adverse weather conditions necessitating a delay in loading and hauling of materials” at the pit.
There also would be an informational sign on the highway.
MacArthur was not available for comment Monday but described his rationale in an Aug. 6 letter to a Colorado Department of Transportation official seeking his endorsement of the relaxed hours of gravel hauling.
“For the past year, we have documented fog events and found only five days of fog at 7-8 a.m. at the pit entrance and only one day that it was a problem to see out beyond 300 feet,” MacArthur wrote. “We have asked the county to reconsider these restrictions understanding (that) on days we cannot see 300 feet we would send out an e-mail blast and phone blast to close the pit until further notice and resend when the fog lifted.”
Stahoviak took note of MacArthur’s letter to CDOT’s Region 3 Permit Manager Dan Roussin and noted that Roussin responded that CDOT had not imposed any constraints on Steamboat Sand and Gravel.
“Of course they didn’t because the fog/road safety issue was a land-use issue related to a request (made to the county) for a special-use permit,” Stahoviak wrote.
If the amended permit were approved, Steamboat Sand and Gravel would be allowed to begin hauling gravel at 8 a.m. on non-holiday weekdays, year-round, according to Valentine. No more than 400,000 tons of gravel material may be removed from the pit in any 12-month period.
During public hearings, MacArthur made the case that the addition of a new pit south of Steamboat Springs would reduce the number of gravel trucks traveling through downtown Steamboat from existing pits on the other side of town.
There was much public sentiment against the new gravel pit.
Previously, the county’s insistence on limited hauling hours contributed to an unsuccessful lawsuit by the original proponent of the gravel pit, Lafarge, which was granted a permit by Routt County in 2005 after four years of analysis and public hearings. After failing to succeed with the suit, Lafarge did not act on its permit and objected to the constraints placed on the mining operations.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1
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