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BoCC postpones decision on proposed gravel pit

Proponents and opponents of a proposed major gravel pit located near Cloman Industrial Park will have to wait on a decision from the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners approving or denying a request for a conditional use permit for the pit.

The decision was continued until a later BoCC meeting following an hour-and-a-half discussion at a Tuesday BoCC meeting that, at times, seemed more like a court proceeding than a public meeting.

The proposed Eagle Mountain Gravel pit would be located on 38 acres of a larger ranch of about 2,000 acres owned by Thomas and Margie Smith, Archuleta County Senior Planner Cindy Schultz said.

Schultz told the commissioners gravel would be processed and used on site, to reconstruct a private access road to the ranch and could possibly be used to create roads for a future land division. The pit would be in operation during daylight hours five days a week.

According to the application, access to the pit would be from Cloman Boulevard, though no gravel would be sold or taken off the ranch, and the conditional use permit would be for up to 25 years (with 10-year renewal periods), complete with a number of conditions for dust mitigation, noise levels, public health, storm water detention and more, Schultz said.

In determining the conditions, a number of area agencies were contacted.

All neighbors located within 500 feet of the proposed gravel pit were also notified, Schultz said.

Schultz added that the recommended BoCC approval would be contingent upon the completion of a hydrologic study and an Air Pollution Emission Notice (APEN).

The gravel pit proposal was approved by the county planning commission at a Jan. 14 meeting.

Commissioner Bob Moomaw expressed concern with the proposed pit’s operation during daylight hours, noting that hours should be more specific, such as sunrise to sunset.

Moomaw then expressed concern regarding a letter from Jeff Robbins, an attorney representing the pit’s opponents, which said the pit application failed to meet submittal requirements.

Schultz explained that, concerning visual impact mitigation of the site, not a lot of vegetation existed at the site, and not a lot of techniques would apply, such as planting trees, due to lack of water. As for a wildlife mitigation plan, Schultz reported that the Colorado Division of Wildlife was not concerned and left wildlife mitigation to the best management practices of the pit owners.

Schultz added that the APEN and water plans were submitted to the state, but likely relied on approval of the conditional use permit before they would be approved.

Moomaw followed up, asking if it would be putting “the cart before the horse” to approve the CUP before the other permits were approved. Schultz replied that BoCC approval would be conditional and contingent upon the pit receiving the other permits, at which point the owners would receive a letter of commencement.

Commissioner John Ranson questioned the possible use of the gravel in creating roads for a future Dutton Creek subdivision and if the pit use should be approved before the development is approved.

Schultz told Ranson that road reconstruction would be the first project for the pit, noting that a concrete and asphalt batch plant was taken out of the plans through the process.

Ranson also pointed to a request for more time from PAWSD, which Schultz said revolved around water quality and was one of the conditions tied to the hydrologic study.

After a number of other commissioner questions regarding access to the pit, wildlife, vested rights and other concerns, Ranson seconded a motion by Moomaw in order to open the topic up to public comment, with BoCC Chair Clifford Lucero directing the proponents to speak, followed by the opponents of the project.

Kit Shy, a land surveyor and planner associated with the project was first up, noted the project began in April 2009, that all roads would be built to county standards in anticipation of future development, expressed concern about who would be monitoring noise levels (probably an outside source, he and County Attorney Todd Starr said), and noted that an eight-hour work day would be insufficient due to the short work season.

Lucero proposed that crushing could occur eight hours a day, while additional time could be used for hauling and other activities.

Next, Dan Russell, also a land surveyor associated with the project, spoke about the location and reported that, due to other roads cut nearby, it was obvious gravel existed at the site and noted that the preliminary boundary line of the pit had been refined due to power lines and concerns from neighboring property owners about viewshed. Russell also said the pit was 36 acres.

Ranson asked if any other sites further from neighboring properties would be feasible, to which Russell replied that gravel is a difficult commodity to find and it would be mined from the site in five stages of six or seven acres at a time, each of which would begin to be reclaimed as soon as the mining was complete in that portion. He noted that the pit depth could reach 80 feet.

Area resident Roger Horton expressed the need for the access to reach structures now on the other side of Stevens Reservoir due to the reservoir’s enlargement, while Guisseppe Margiotta clarified that, in fact, two sets of notices had been sent out concerning the project.

Peggy Montano, an attorney representing the Smiths, used a number of photos and pointed out to the commissioners that the area was not simply residential, but was near Cloman Industrial Park and said she was concerned that sounds from the industrial park would affect the readings taken from the gravel pit.

She also noted that concerns about carcinogens had been mitigated with removal of the batch plant.

Robbins, representing the neighbors, also using photographs, said issues raised by neighbors were those born of proximity.

Neighboring property owner Bob Santee expressed that his understanding was that the project was a minor pit, that he was never told about the quantity of gravel to be removed, and that he did not, and would not, approve of the larger pit.

Santee also said the size felt like a “sucker punch” that was not revealed to him until after the Jan. 15 planning commission meeting.

Robbins clarified to the BoCC that the Santee property was 100-200 yards from the proposed pit site. Robbins then continued, noting the pit was not a compatible use for the area and was not like the light industry in Cloman Park.

Another neighboring property owner, Dale Hockett, who said he had previous gravel pit experience, showed concern for the depth and the noise.

Carol Thalman noted that she and her husband built their house in the area 29 years ago, and that the pit and the dust particles sent into the air would deny their right to a healthy life.

Marsha Jarvis expressed her concern of an adverse affect on property values.

Robbins then summed up, saying the pit would protect development and provide “carte blanche” approval for future development.

“Gravel pits are always hugely contentious,” Moomaw stated, saying it is difficult to come up with a fair decision and requesting a continuance of the item in order for the commissioners to look at the site and neighboring properties.

The issue will likely be revisited at the July 6 regular BoCC meeting.

In other action at the meeting:

•The Archuleta County Education Center approached the BoCC regarding a request for a proposed mill levy increase of 1.5 mills to be placed on the November ballot.

The issue was originally slated to be a new business item and considered for action at Tuesday’s meeting.

Don Goodwin, executive director of the Ed. Center, said he is looking to place a 1.5 mill increase on the November ballot to accomplish three main goals — to establish teleconferencing technology, to expand computing capacity to diversify the learning environment, and to create a “predictable and sustainable scholarship fund.”

In order to reach the November ballot, the Ed. Center could pursue two paths — approach the BoCC to place the mill levy increase on the ballot, with the revenue dedicated to the Ed Center, or to begin the process of becoming a special district, if eligible.

County Attorney Starr referred Goodwin and the Ed Center board to a Denver attorney familiar with election law, Mark Grueskin of Isaacson Rosenbaum P.C., to help the board decide which of the paths to take.

County Administrator Greg Schulte directed Goodwin to ascertain which of the paths the Ed. Center would take, then approach the BoCC again.

•The commissioners agreed with a 2-1 vote to approve AMEC Earth & Environmental’s preparation of a Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan for the Sheriff’s Department Office of Emergency Management.

The plan would bring the county in compliance with the Pre-disaster Mitigation Act.

With much of the $67,000 needed for the plan covered by federal and state funding, the county cash needed (in addition to in-kind donation) is $1,000 in 2010 (which was budgeted), and $5,500, which prompted Ranson to call the act an “unfunded mandate” and vote no “on principle alone.”

• The commissioners indicated they will consider two items within the next two weeks, either at a special meeting or at the next regular meeting — a position against three November ballot issues (Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61) and a letter of support for Renewable Forest Energy LLC for a gasification and power plant to be located in Archuleta County.

The next regular BoCC meeting is June 15 at 1:30 p.m.

randi@pagosasun.com