Routt County leans toward expanding hauling hours at Steamboat Sand and Gravel

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— With two of three members leaning toward approval, the Routt County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to table the request of Alpine Aggregates owner Ed MacArthur to amend his current permit and expand gravel hauling hours at Steamboat Sand and Gravel at its pit near the Colorado Highway 131 bridge over the Yampa River south of Steamboat.

“I’m inclined to approve this amendment,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “But I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the exact methodology, and what I’d like to do is table this and find a way to get a better methodology or something that’s a little clearer than this is.”

The commissioners will take the request up again at 3 p.m. Dec. 17. In the meantime, planning staff is assigned to review MacArthur’s proposed system for alerting gravel-hauling companies that the pit is shut down because of heavy fog on the highway and convert it into formal conditions of approval.

Under the current permit, trucks may haul gravel from the pit from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June 1 to Aug. 15. But during the balance of the year, hauling cannot begin until 10 a.m. MacArthur said his staff has observed relatively few foggy days in the past year, and he would like to move the starting time to 8 a.m. year-round while backing up the quitting time to 5:30 p.m. to better meet the needs of contractors.

Commissioner Doug Monger, who voted in favor of the restrictions three years ago, said he’s now open to relaxing the time constraints on the gravel hauling. Commissioner Steve Ivancie noted that MacArthur had told the last board of commissioners he would come back in several years to amend his petition if his research revealed some method of alleviating fog issues.

“I’m comfortable with keeping conditions of approval as they are,” Ivancie said.

MacArthur has proposed an automated messaging system that would alert gravel haulers that the pit is closed anytime fog reduces visibility on the stretch of highway to less than 750 feet in either direction. He plans to post bright orange signs at the edge of the highway right-of-way, 750 feet away from the entrance in either direction.

His mine superintendent would go to the road more than once every morning to determine whether he could see the signs. Any time that he could not, he would initiate the automated email and text messaging system to alert truck drivers that the pit was closed until further notice.

With the alert system in place, MacArthur would ask the commissioners to waive the morning restrictions on gravel hauling and let him begin before 10 a.m. in the cold months.

MacArthur told the commissioners that his staff has taken pictures every morning to document conditions near the mine’s entry road. He said they learned that in the area specific to the mine entrance road, fog is less common than some people had thought.

Rosemary Post, a neighbor of the gravel pit disagreed.

I’m the only person that lives over this pit. You could not forecast what fog is going to do,” Post said. “A lot of the time in winter, it will come down, go up and in 10 minutes it will go down again.”

MacArthur’s son, Charlie, researched the incidence of accidents on Colo. 131 in the vicinity of the mine entrance and summarized them in a memo to County Planner Jennifer Valentine.

He cited Colorado State Patrol documents to conclude that in the past six years 23 accidents have taken place within a mile each way of the mine entrance. Of those, three took place between 8 and 10 a.m., one each in May, February and December. The two in the winter were related to icy roads. None were attributable to fog, according to MacArthur, and although there were six injuries, there were no deaths.

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

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