Our View: The pitfalls of fence-sitting
June 4, 2005
It is hard to follow Routt County commissioners’ logic in approving a permit for Lafarge to operate a gravel pit in the South Valley.
Commissioners approved the permit only after establishing a number of strict conditions Lafarge will have to follow. We presume the commissioners were trying to find a compromise to appease both sides of what has been, at times, a heated issue. But in the commissioners’ efforts to straddle the fence, they appear to have fallen on it.
The Lafarge gravel pit is proposed for 128 acres on the More Ranch, an area visible from Rabbit Ears Pass.
The pit has been debated since 2001. A group of concerned citizens lobbied hard against the pit, arguing it would create unwanted noise and traffic and be an eyesore in one of the Yampa Valley’s most scenic areas.
Lafarge took the concerns seriously. During the four years between when the pit was proposed and when it was approved May 20, the company amended its plan several times.
Lafarge secured necessary permits for the site from a slew of federal and state agencies. The company agreed to eliminate plans for an asphalt plant at the pit. The company agreed to build an improved intersection and turning lane into the plant on Colorado Highway 131. And the company agreed to reclaim the site with five lakes, 15 acres of wetlands and more than 2,800 plants — the most extensive and highest quality reclamation plan for a gravel pit in the county’s history. The pit scored well on the county’s gravel matrix — better than any other site proposed in the area.
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Lafarge was asked to do more than any gravel pit operator in Routt County to acquire its permit, and we thought the company had earned approval.
But without any warning, commissioners came to the May 20 meeting armed with a new list of mandates. In approving the permit, commissioners required Lafarge to remove plans for a concrete plant, dedicate 128 acres of land for conservation easements, disturb just 25 acres of land at a time, reduce the times when trucks can haul gravel from the mine and eliminate one phase of the gravel pit.
The conditions caught Lafarge off guard. Lafarge representative Gary Tuttle said the changes were “counterproductive.” He said the 25-acre limit means Lafarge cannot mine all the gravel needed to meet the demands south of Steamboat. The elimination of the concrete plant and the acreage restrictions will result in more gravel trucks traveling through Steamboat, a scenario that everyone agreed needed to be avoided.
It’s not as if the conditions scored the commissioners any points with those who opposed the gravel pit. They viewed anything short of denying the permit as a defeat.
“Obviously we didn’t get what we wanted, which would have been no pit,” said Ken Solomon, a critic of the pit.
Commissioner Doug Monger acknowledged the final decision most likely made no one happy, but he hoped it was the best move for the community. We’re not sure he is right.
The results of the conditions the commissioners added to the Lafarge permit are likely to be higher gravel prices, more transportation requirements and a greater probability that another pit will be needed to meet gravel demand in the area. Given that, it’s hard to see how anyone — Lafarge, the gravel pit opponents or the commissioners — was a winner in this decision.