GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Garfield County commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to approve plans for a controversial solid waste transfer station to operate out of the former coal loadout facility on County Road 100 east of Carbondale.
The decision came after an eight-hour-long continued public hearing in Glenwood Springs. It was the third such meeting since mid-September to consider the request for a land-use change permit by local waste hauler Mountain Rolloffs Inc. (MRI).
Tuesday's meeting included another six hours worth of public comments, many coming from property owners in five nearby subdivisions whose homeowners' associations formally opposed the transfer station.
Some suggested that a decision to approve the facility could open up the county to a lawsuit, on claims that it would lower their property values and be a public health and safety hazard.
"The county, over the years, has encouraged residential development in this area," said Mitch Knutson, a property owner in the Roaring Fork Preserve subdivision who has spearheaded opposition to the proposal.
"We believe the property owners have a case for a class-action lawsuit," he said. "This could be bad exposure for the county."
County commissioners, after obtaining legal advice during a short executive session, voted 3-0 to approve MRI's plans for the operation, but with about two-dozen conditions attached.
"I go back to the zoning for this site, which is industrial," Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, referring to the 95-acre former Mid-Continent Resources loadout site that's now owned by a group of local investors known as IRMW II LLC.
"I see this as a light industrial use," Jankovksy said. "This particular site is shown in our comprehensive plan as an industrial area, and an area for rural employment ... I truly believe if these guys do as they say they will do, we're not going to see a big change."
Part of MRI's residential, commercial and construction site waste-hauling operations are already located at IRMW property, situated about two miles east of Carbondale on County Road 100 (Catherine Store Road).
The transfer station plan calls for hauling trash and recyclable materials from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley to the site, sorting it and bundling it for transport to local landfills or recycling centers on larger semi-trailer trucks.
Trash would not remain on site for more than a day, according to MRI's plans.
Among the conditions of approval by the commissioners are for semi trucks to travel to and from the facility directly from Highway 82, using the eastern portion of Catherine Store Road.
No more than five round-trip semi truck trips per day are to be allowed initially, until improvements can be made to a bridge that crosses the Roaring Fork River, including widening the driving surface.
MRI is to partner with the county to pay for the estimated $500,000 in bridge improvements. The county and MRI are to determine a proportional cost share of those improvements. After the bridge improvements are done, the number of daily semi-truck trips could increase to 10.
Other conditions include provisions that MRI:
• Construct a left-hand turning lane into the facility from the county road, as well as an acceleration lane coming back onto the road.
• Obtain access permits from the County Road and Bridge Department as well as the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to cross the Rio Grande Trail. The trail runs parallel to the county road.
• Restrict access to the site to the waste transfer operation and subcontractors, and not allow regular public access. MRI had proposed to open a public recycling drop-off center on the site once the transfer station is in operation.
• Limit hours of operation to 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
If the facility is sold in the future, the county also retains the right to review the conditions and operations plan at a public meeting before transferring the permit.
Some opponents have theorized that MRI planned to obtain the permits for the waste transfer facility, then sell to a larger trash-hauling company. MRI partner and manager Don Van Devander has maintained that is not the case.
"We are not selling the facility," he said after the Tuesday meeting.
Van Devander said it would likely be several months before the new transfer station is up and running.
"We have a lot of work to do before we can open the facility," he said, referring to the various conditions, which also address fire protection, odor and other air emission controls and measures to prevent against contamination from stormwater runoff.
In the meantime, he said the public can expect to see some improvements in the current appearance of the property, which was another of the neighbor's concerns.
County Commission Chairman John Martin said the county will respond to any violations of the conditions.
"There is a potential for violations, and that will be complaint-driven. You are going to have to be a better neighbor," Martin said before voting in favor of MRI's plans.