Commissioners agree to discuss gravel pits with stakeholders
Despite at times differing sharply with fellow elected officials, the Garfield County Commissioners agreed to convene a stakeholder meeting within the month to discuss the future of gravel pits in the county and decide how to handle them.Increased housing construction, as well as a burgeoning oil and gas industry, have fueled the demand for gravel for road material and concrete and have sparked applications for expanded or new pits. Gravel operations are required to have special use permits from the county.The issue is a growing concern to municipalities on the west end of the county, which have seen proposals for several pits this year. They are concerned the pits will form an unsightly chain along the Colorado River between Silt and Rifle.The mayors of Silt and Rifle called for a moratorium on further applications for gravel pits until an overall plan for reclamation and environmental protection can be developed for the whole corridor. However, two of the three county commissioners, Larry McCown and John Martin, balked at taking that step.McCown said he would not consider a moratorium unless every municipality put a similar stop to further construction projects, since those also rely heavily on the availability of gravel for concrete.While all agreed the issue of gravel pit reclamation and environmental protection needs to be considered, agreement broke down over how to achieve that end.Commissioner Trési Houpt pushed to bring all interested parties, from government agencies to environmental organizations, to the table to hear the issues and decide if new county regulations should be created.”I think if we all come to the table and share information with each other we’ll come up with some pretty decent terms … that will be beneficial to the county,” she said.Martin favored working with municipalities individually over concerns with specific projects, and then lobbying the state agency, the Division of Minerals and Geology, that regulates mining reclamation. He said a stakeholders meeting and resulting decision-making would be too long a process.Martin also argued that the county has no control over reclamation of gravel pits and other resource extraction, although county attorney Don DeFord contended that the law does have some flexibility for counties to regulate gravel mining.However, the mayors of Rifle and Silt felt strongly that gravel pit development needs to be tightly regulated. “Local governments (should) have some say … and why shouldn’t we? We’re the ones affected the most,” said Dave Moore, mayor of Silt. “We should have a lot of say in the operations. … We should not be left out of the loop.”Continued gravel extraction and its long-term effects on the flow of the Colorado River – where most of the pits in the county are located – is especially worrisome to the city of Rifle, which draws some of its water from the river.”How much gravel can be taken out before it affects the river,” said Rifle city councilman Alan Lambert. “It could leave our (water) intakes high and dry.”McCown also questioned the impact of gravel pits, saying they have been a part of the landscape for many years. “I don’t think they’re detrimental,” he said. While they’re mined “they’re a snapshot in time,” an unsightly stage that terminates when the pit is played out, just like a subdivision when it’s being constructed.After more than two hours of discussion and failure of a first motion by the commissioners to hold the meeting, they finally agreed to a stakeholder meeting with a specific agenda in place. Martin remained a holdout against the meeting and voted against it.But before the final resolution, hot words were exchanged among the officials. After the first motion was voted down by Martin and McCown, Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert accused Martin of “reneging” on a promise to hold the meeting. Alan Lambert accused McCown of conflict of interest in the gravel pit question “since your best friend (gravel pit operator Bill Bailey) is one of the applicants” for a new pit near Rifle.In responding to Alan Lambert’s request that he recuse himself from voting, McCown strongly denied any conflict of interest in considering any development.”I have a lot of friends in Garfield County,” he said. “If there is no direct benefit to me (from a proposed project) I don’t step down.”At the meeting, discussion will revolve around requiring conceptual and reclamation plans for a pit before operations begin, a deadline for closure of the pit, environmental considerations, such as wildlife, and the cumulative effects on the river corridor of continued gravel operations.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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