Garfield County continues asphalt plant decision
A proposal to locate an asphalt manufacturing plant next to an existing organic farm near the Garfield County Regional Airport southeast of Rifle could test a provision of the county’s land-use code meant to protect agriculture operations.
“The county standards couldn’t be more clear,” Scott Balcomb, the attorney representing Eagle Springs Organic Farm, said during a continued Garfield Board of County Commissioners public hearing Tuesday.
The commissioners are considering a land-use change proposal by Charles Ellsworth of Bedrock Resources LLC to allow for an asphalt batch plant immediately west of the farm.
Balcomb noted that the county code states that any land-use changes next to agricultural operations “shall not adversely affect, or otherwise limit the viability” of an existing ag operation.
Eagle Springs Farm operators are concerned that emissions from an asphalt plant could impact the organic certification if any crops are contaminated.
Balcomb also termed the matter a “fake economic development issue,” in reference to the county commissioners’ stated focus on jobs creation.
“You don’t enhance the economy by undermining the ability of existing businesses to carry on,” Balcomb said.
“It’s silly to be talking about allowing an industrial facility immediately upwind from a properly zoned [farm] that’s already in operation,” he said.
County commissioners have been inundated with volumes of new information in the two weeks since the issue first came before them.
The board agreed to continue the hearing again until 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, in order to wade through the new information, including more than 45 emails mostly from opponents of the asphalt plant.
Dave Smith, the attorney representing Bedrock Resources, said the plant operators intend to work with farm owner Ken Sack to lessen the impacts of the asphalt plant.
He noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification standards require the farms themselves to mitigate impacts from adjacent land uses.
The plant operators have agreed to take on that responsibility, by creating a 400-foot-wide buffer zone between the plant and the Eagle Springs property, and by building a 26-foot-high berm.
Smith also noted that several adjacent natural gas well pads and related operations also existed before the two-year-old organic farm. Those sites only have a 20-foot buffer, he said.
“If you look at it from a broad perspective, this is a tough site to operate a certified organic farm,” Smith said. “You can even raise the question of whether the farm itself is compatible.”
Representatives for the asphalt plant operators also offered evidence that the existing plant, which will be moved from a site near Silt, has been operating well below emissions standards for several pollutants.
“It’s not government’s job to pick winners and losers in terms of business,” said nearby resident Jacob Richards, one of several members of the public who spoke against the asphalt plant.
“These people already have a facility, and moving it is not going to create a lot of new jobs,” he said. “Eagle Springs does create jobs … It simply doesn’t make economic sense to compromise an existing business.”
Balcomb noted that the farm currently employs about 50 people, with upwards of 150 potential jobs as the farm grows.
Aaron Garrett, project manager for a solar farm that also sits on the Eagle Springs property, said pollution from the asphalt plant could also impact solar electric generation of the facility.
Longtime area rancher and property owner Dick Morgan applauded the organic farm’s efforts, but supported the asphalt plant.
“I appreciate the job you do, but you have to base your decisions on facts, not hearsay,” Morgan told the commissioners. “If this plant isn’t acceptable here, then where would it be?”
Mischa Popoff, a former organic farm inspector from Canada and an author on the subject of organic food, spoke on behalf of the asphalt plant.
He called the concerns about emissions negatively impacting the farm “fear mongering.” He said the potential contaminants could come from a variety of sources, and there’s no way to trace them to the plant operation.
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