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Gravel pit goes against free enterprise

Richard Grant

Editor’s Note: This letter was originally addressed to the Garfield County Commissioners.

Dear Editor,

Several times over the past year you have spoken of your belief in free enterprise. Free enterprise depends on, and cannot exist without, private property and private property rights. Private property rights depend on, and cannot exist without, a vigorous defense by all levels of government.

Planning and Zoning has been established to oversee the process, gather information and input, and provide (or provide for) technical expertise to ensure that impacts to private property and property collectively shared (such as air, water, flora and fauna, public roads, vistas, etc.) are indeed mitigated.

It is difficult to understand why anyone who believes in free enterprise would skip the public planning and zoning hearings when an applicant applies for a special use permit for a gravel pit. After all, the reason a special use permit is required for a gravel pit is that gravel pits can have tremendous impacts on the surrounding area, and the citizens who live and own property there.

I would be willing to bet that no other county commission in the state has skipped the planning and zoning public hearing on a gravel pit of this size.

A gravel pit operator from Canon City asked me recently how hard it was to get a special use permit from Garfield County. I told him that they just decided to skip the planning and zoning public hearing for the proposed Mamm Creek pit and have been promoting the quick approval for the applicant. He said that was surprising, as his experience has been that it is easy to get approval from all the agencies that review gravel pits and asphalt and concrete batch plants (such as the Division of Minerals and Geology, DOW, et al.) but always difficult to get through the county process.

In fact, Garfield County commissioners have bemoaned the fact that this applicant has had to deal with 14 agencies, and it has taken 18 months to get to this point. In fact, Garfield County planning staff said the application had been thoroughly reviewed in “numerous public meetings.” It is interesting to note that the applicants use this same language in their submission.

I’d like to see a list of these numerous public meetings, and especially would like the commissioners and staff to explain how any of those would take the place of public planning and zoning hearings. One of the two local public meetings was an informational meeting only sponsored by the Division of Minerals and Geology. They did not take public input and explained that they would not review dust, noise, suitability for the neighborhood, hours of operation, etc., as that was the job of the county.

All gravel pit, asphalt and concrete special use permit applicants go through this review process and deal with these agencies. They have been for years. Any competent planning staff member could have informed the commissioners of this.

A management employee of a large gravel pit operator recently said that they usually plan on 4 to 5 years and $500,000 to construct the application and get through the special use application process for a pit of this size.

It should also be noted that this applicant might have shortened the time frame. The Division of Minerals and Geology require an applicant to submit all the necessary Information and additional information requested by the DMG to them within one year of the date of its original submission. The DMG still did not have all the information they required 11 months after the Mamm Creek pit applicant began the process. In fact, several people familiar with the process stated that the initial application was incomplete, and did not address most of the normal impact mitigation factors.

While many government agencies have the legal mandate to review these applications to ensure that government and collectively shared property is not unduly impacted, they do not have the authority or mandate to investigate many private property impacts. Their review is narrower, and often technical in nature. Many private property impacts and local concerns are left up to the local government.

That is the reason that every county and city has planning and zoning, and the reason special use permit applications go through public planning and zoning hearings. Public planning and zoning hearings ensure that people whose rights will be impacted, or think they will be impacted, are heard, and enough time is taken to review and investigate all the technical information needed to allow for the best factual determination.

Without this public process, any decision is more political than factual. Without a full public process and technical review at the planning and zoning level, property rights can be diminished or taken away. If you shortcut this process, you give this applicant an advantage in time and money that previous applicants have already paid. This government sponsored advantage flies in the face of free enterprise.

Without a full public review, the only recourse for those impacted is litigation. Few can withstand the time and cost. Without a full public review, people on fixed income, families struggling to pay the costs of housing and raising a family, etc., have no recourse except to give up their property and property rights.

Another interesting note on free enterprise. Members of this application group mined 7.1 acres outside their boundaries at the Union Carbide Gravel Pit in west Rifle, a violation of their permit. County code requires them to report this to the county. The Division of Minerals and Geology investigated, as it violated the reclamation permit they control. When they asked Garfield County for comment, the forces for free enterprise at the county did not respond. Not a word.

Richard Grant

Basalt


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