Gravel pit proposal near Carbondale gets partial OK
November 9, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A controversial proposed gravel pit near Carbondale was approved by Garfield County on Monday.
But only about half of the requested amount of land can be mined for now, under a compromise that split the Board of County Commissioners and left the gravel pit’s proponents momentarily speechless.
The Western Slope Aggregate gravel mining operation, also known as the Blue Pit, is an 83-acre operation that has been going since it was approved in 1981.
It was to have been nearly doubled in size under a proposal by longtime regional gravel pit operator Bill Roberts.
Roberts wanted to expand the existing pit by approximately 64 acres of additional mining operations, in a plan that was endorsed by the late Gene Blue and his widow, Dee Blue, who own the ranch where the Blue Pit is located.
Roberts and a team of consultants maintained that the pit would operate for up to four decades, which is the term of his lease with the Blue family trust and with Dee Blue.
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But Roberts’ plan ran into stiff resistance from residents of the Wooden Deer subdivision, located just uphill from the proposed expansion area.
The Wooden Deer property owners, and others in the neighborhood, together formed a group called the Crystal Springs Coalition dedicated to fighting Roberts’ proposal.
In a hearing that lasted more than three hours, the plan’s proponents and opponents argued their respective cases, with opponents lamenting the expected noise, dust and degradation of the views of Mount Sopris to the south.
The proponents, on the other hand, noted that the 90-foot depth of the gravel deposit makes it one of the richest in the region, which would go far to meet the gravel, concrete and asphalt needs of the valley.
Proponents also pointed to a number of concessions they had made to placate their angry neighbors, including an agreement to screen the operations buildings with vegetation and to replant the visible southern scar of the initial operations as quickly as possible.
The most telling argument by the opponents appeared to be a presentation by attorney Jody Edwards, who noted that in the current recession, with the gravel pit operating at less than half-capacity, it could end up operating for much longer than projected.
Using a figure that Roberts mentioned in an earlier hearing – that the pit was selling only 50,000 tons of gravel per year – Edwards figured that the pit would last for more than 299 years.
Roberts, at Monday’s hearing, said the output of the old Blue Pit had increased since last summer, when he spoke of 50,000 tons per year.
He said the pit now is operating at closer to 200,000 tons per year, or nearly half of its peak of roughly 450,000 tons per year during what Edwards termed “the go-go years of the boom,” in 2006 and 2007.
Even at levels approaching peak production, it was noted at the meeting, the existing pit coupled with the first two phases of the expansion would have at least 20 years of operations.
And that seemed to be the argument that swayed at least two of the commissioners, Tresi Houpt and Mike Samson.
The two agreed to compromise between the proponents, who wanted their entire application approved, and the neighbors, who wanted none of it approved.
In a motion by Houpt, and backed by Samson, the commissioners voted 2-1 to permit WSA to open up a new pit that encompasses the southern half of the proposed operation.
The northern portion, closest to the Wooden Deer homes, is to be left alone for now.
“I think we need to see how this moves forward,” said Houpt, noting that the operators can return for another expansion in the future.
Samson, clearly perturbed by the direction things were taking, declaimed to the audience, “I try to work things out so that at least some of the people can be somewhat happy” and lamented, “Nobody’s going to go out … feeling 100 percent about what is done today.”
But, he said, the compromise moved by Houpt gives the pit operators “at least close to 20 years more extraction. At that time, will gravel be needed as much, or will it be needed more?”
That, he said, will be up to “someone else.”
The outcome angered Commissioner John Martin, who felt that the application called for sufficiently phased operations, along with periodic reviews by the county, to meet the neighbors’ concerns.
More broadly, he continued, “This is a mining state. … You are taking a [property] right away.”
“I think that everybody in this room has property rights,” retorted Houpt, adding that a further expansion might be approved if the gravel mining operations do not “destroy the quality of life” of the neighbors.
“This is a compromise,” she told Martin. “I don’t think this takes any rights away.”