Gravel pit review crunches along
The focus of review for the proposed Mamm Creek gravel pit east of Rifle has narrowed substantially following a public hearing at Monday’s Garfield County Commission meeting.
Next Monday, the commissioners will consider only a set of new conditions for approval, which the applicants presented late in the game at Monday’s meeting.
When Ann Nicholson, of New Castle, asked whether the public will be allowed to speak at next week’s meeting, County Commissioner Walt Stowe said, “No, it’s unlikely we’ll reopen the public hearing.”
A local business consortium first proposed the Mamm Creek gravel pit, east of Rifle between the Colorado River and Interstate 70, in 2001, but the county returned the application because it didn’t meet submission requirements.
When Roaring Fork Resources resubmitted a new application during the summer to operate a gravel pit on 110 acres, the county planning staff proposed 26 conditions for approval that include hours of operation and wildlife mitigation.
At Monday’s meeting, the applicants came armed with a lawyers, water experts, wildlife consultants and planners.
The applicant’s opponents, led by rival gravel pit owners Doug and Dan Grant, appeared with their own small team, a squad that included a lawyer, land use planner, water expert and others.
The Grant brothers questioned traffic impacts on the Interstate 70 frontage road, noise from gravel pit operation, Colorado River floodplain issues, technical errors in at least one federal permit the applicant has received, and other environmental concerns.
One of the Grant brothers’ concerns, as outlined in a study they commissioned from planner Eric McCafferty, focused on the hazards that birds, attracted to gravel pit ponds, might pose to aircraft at the nearby Garfield County Airport.
Airport manager Brian Condee told the commissioners the gravel pit is compatible with airport operations. “Conditions already exist that attract wildlife to the area,” Condee said.
The applicants also downplayed the importance of what could be a bald eagle’s nest on the gravel pit property. Ronald Beane, a wildlife biologist hired by the applicant, said a bald eagle “structure” was found on the property, but he and another wildlife consultant determined there is no evidence eagle have used it to raise young.
Beane said it’s fairly common for young bald eagles to build nests but not use them, especially when they reach breeding age. In any case, the gravel pit property will be subject to federal laws protecting the birds, Beane said.
Terry Knight, a planner for the applicants, told the commissioners the proposal appears to be consistent with the county master plan.
Knight said the agricultural/ industrial zoning is consistent with gravel operations, there’s a strong demand for gravel in the Rifle area, and steps will be taken to preserve wetlands, sloughs and existing vegetation.
Knight also pointed to the state and federal permits the applicants have received, including an Army Corps of Engineers permit to disturb wetlands.
“We believe we’ve met all the requirements,” Knight said.
Doug Grant, whose gravel pit is about one mile east of the proposed Mamm Creek gravel pit, argued against the application on fairness and technical merits. He told the commissioners the noise from the Mamm Creek pit will be almost exactly like the noise from a Silt gravel pit that the commissioners denied.
Grant and others on his team also complained that the commissioners never referred the application to the county planning commission.
The Grant team also objected to commissioners limiting the time for opponents to voice their arguments.
“We’re asking you for a little latitude here,” Grant said.
County Commissioner Larry McCown made the motion to continue discussion for one week, so the commissioners can review a list of alternative conditions the applicant’s lawyer, Tim Thulson, presented late in the meeting. The motion passed 3-0.
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