Officials learn a hole lot about gravel pit rules
Local elected officials got a crash course on the complex web of regulations and permits for gravel pits in the state Monday. Put together by the Garfield County Commissioners, the meeting included representatives of state agencies that regulate air and water quality, wildlife and reclamation.The meeting was called because of growing concern among the towns and cities in the west end of the county – Rifle, Silt and New Castle – that recent applications to expand old pits or open new ones will form an unsightly chain along the Colorado River.Increased housing construction and a burgeoning oil and gas industry have fueled a rising demand for gravel for road material and concrete, and have sparked applications for expanded or new pits.The mayors of Silt and Rifle have 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. But two out of the three county commissioners have opposed a moratorium.Of particular interest to local officials Monday was a report card developed by Routt County to rate gravel pits for compliance with guidelines relating to visibility, traffic, dust, noise, wildlife, air and water quality and reclamation.Routt County senior planner John Eastman said the county issues special use permits for gravel operations for only 10 years. Gravel pits typically have a life span of 15 to 30 years.Under the permits, operators are also limited in how much land they can mine at one time, which has cut down on the impacts, Eastman said.Permit applications are subject to evaluation according to the county’s guidelines, which regulate traffic, water loss, wildlife impacts, cumulative impacts over time and a pit’s visibility from nearby houses.The guidelines “have raised the level of compliance,” Eastman said. Larger operators were already following the guidelines, but the report card improved the practices of smaller companies.Monday’s presenters also included the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, which issues permits and requires bonds for reclamation of mining activities, including gravel pits. Senior environmental protection specialist Carl Mount said the state agency is the only agency that can hold a reclamation bond.The Garfield County Commissioners have discussed whether to regulate reclamation through the county’s land use code. Apparently it is a matter of legal debate whether or not counties have the authority to do so.Although they don’t regulate gravel pit operations directly, both Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives spoke about their concerns with the potential loss of wildlife habitat through gravel mining.Brian Gray, district wildlife manager with the DOW, said gravel pit reclamation should include habitat restoration. Of primary importance is making sure pits, which fill with water after mining is completed, have shallow areas for wading birds and islands for nesting.Gray also spoke about concerns over an eagle nest just east of Rifle that currently has both oil and gas and gravel pit operations nearby.”The eagles put up with quite a bit; I would bet they would continue to use (the nest) because they’ve gotten used to it,” he said. DOW and Fish and Wildlife both recommend a one-quarter mile buffer zone around active eagle nests to avoid disturbing the birds, which are on the endangered species list.While Monday’s meeting was informational and no decisions were made about future regulations for gravel pits, New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin was pleased with the results.He said the county commissioners have promised another meeting for the stakeholders. No date has been set for that meeting.But he hopes county “has the opportunity and obligation for regulating reclamation. It’s what all the stakeholders are interested in. That we’re having this conversation is positive and makes me hopeful.”Silt Mayor Dave Moore said he’d like to see Garfield County adopt guidelines similar to Routt County’s.”We’re looking for the county to cooperate with the cities in permitting (gravel pits),” he said. County Commissioner Trési Houpt, who initially pushed for the meeting between the commissioners and other local governments, said the group needs to meet again “and process the information and figure out how we can make a win-win situation for all stakeholders.” Houpt said she was particularly interested in exploring the concept of concurrent reclamation and a phased approach to mining, which would limit the area of disturbance and require interim reclamation.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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