Our View: Fog restrictions for gravel pit should be lifted
December 3, 2013
Routt County commissioners are considering lifting gravel hauling restrictions at a gravel pit located on Colorado Highway 131.
We support approval of the request as long as public safety measures are addressed.
This past week, Routt County commissioners tabled a request to amend a gravel hauling permit to expand the hours gravel can be hauled from the Steamboat Sand and Gravel pit on Colorado Highway 131 south of Steamboat Springs. The request was submitted by Ed MacArthur, of Alpine Aggregates, who owns the operation.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today agrees with the commission's decision to delay action and give the request time for further study, and we also support the direction the commission is leaning, which points toward relaxation of hauling constraints at the local gravel pit.
The current permit limits gravel hauling when fog along that stretch of highway can pose a serious public safety issue. During this time of year in particular, heavy fog sometimes forms near the gravel pit entrance, which is located close to where the highway crosses the Yampa River. The relatively warm river water coming out of the Catamount Lake Resorvoir meets the colder air temperatures, and commuters from Stagecoach and South Routt who travel along Colo. 131 may encounter fog on a sweeping curve of the highway just before they approach the gravel pit entrance where heavily loaded gravel trucks turn onto the highway.
Since the original permit was granted in 2010, a number of highway improvements have been made to widen the road and add acceleration lanes near the gravel pit entrance. MacArthur and his crew also have documented the number of days when fog is an issue, and they contend that they have observed relatively few foggy days in the past year.
By delaying the permit decision for a few weeks, the county's planning staff will have time to investigate the situation more thoroughly and write specific conditions of approval for how the gravel pit owners will protect the public when heavy fog is present at the gravel pit's entrance.
If new safety procedures are put into place and compliance with those regulations is monitored, the Pilot thinks the county commission would be justified in lifting the 2010 ban on hauling before 10 a.m. during the fall, winter and spring months.
The original restrictions were well intentioned and an effort to appease the objections of vocal neighbors opposed to the new gravel pit. However, now that there seems to be documentation that there are many days when fog is not present at the gravel pit entrance, we consider limitations on gravel hauling hours to be overly punitive. The county has an opportunity to be more flexible in its permitting of the gravel hauling business while also protecting the public's safety.
Alpine Aggregates has proposed placing bright orange signs at the edge of highway right-of-way 750 feet in either direction from the pit entrance to alert drivers to when the pit is open or closed. Signs that blink when conditions are bad especially would be effective and provide an added measure of safety for all those who travel that stretch of Colo. 131.
The company also has suggested the use of an automated email and text messaging system that would alert gravel haulers that the gravel pit is closed when heavy fog conditions exist and visibility on the highway is reduced to less than 750 feet in either direction
The question of how best to objectively monitor fog conditions along the highway also must be addressed. The applicants are suggesting that the daily fog monitoring responsibility will fall to the mine supervisor. Another possibility to keep a check and balance on that system would be if sheriff's deputies, as part of their routine patrols, kept on eye on compliance.
These all are factors county planners must consider and investigate between now and Dec. 17, when the permit amendment request will be back on the county commission's agenda. By that time, we hope the commission has established a clear and effective methodology for alerting drivers when unsafe conditions exist — a system that allows the local business to function without overburdensome regulations while also addressing public safety concerns that exist along that stretch of highly traveled roadway.