Rifle asphalt plant plan concerns organic farm
RIFLE, Colorado – The operators of an organic farm near the Garfield County Regional Airport have serious concerns that an asphalt batch plant proposed next door could negatively impact the farm’s organic certification.
“An asphalt plant is the worst possible neighbor that an organic farm could have,” said Ken Sack, owner of the 1,200-acre Eagle Springs Organic farm situated along Mamm Creek, just east of the airport.
Speaking at a public hearing before the Garfield Board of County Commissioners Monday, Sack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for certifying organic growers, frowns on industrial uses nearby.
Any errant air or soil pollution that is detected by state regulators in produce or meat from livestock raised at the farm could jeopardize the USDA’s organic stamp of approval, he said.
Since starting the farm three years ago, Sack said he has invested more than $12 million in Garfield County.
The farm itself employs close to 50 people, he said. Plans are to open an organic food market in Rifle, and the farm is also prepared to sell its products to the new Whole Foods store that is under construction in Basalt.
County commissioners postponed until Feb. 21 a decision on plans by Charles Ellsworth of Bedrock Resources LLC to relocate an existing asphalt plant from a site near Silt to a 35-acre site just west of Eagle Springs farm.
“The farming folks are asking some relevant questions here,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “But I feel very inadequate to make any decisions today until I have more information about what would be emitted from the plant, and what that impact could be.”
Commissioners directed county planning staff to seek more information on toxic emissions from asphalt plants, and how agriculture officials view that impact on neighboring farms.
Tom Peterson, executive director of the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association, spoke on behalf of Ellsworth’s plan.
He said asphalt plants aren’t nearly as polluting as they once were. In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment both delisted asphalt plants as major polluters, he said.
“Our industry recognizes the need for environmental responsibility, and to have a minimal impact,” Peterson said.
Ellsworth’s attorney, Dave Smith, said the plant operators will work with the farm to lessen the impact, same as nearby gas-drilling operations have done.
“In short, we would like to be as good a neighbor as possible, and be a model for the kind of partnership that can happen between industry and agriculture in the county,” Smith said.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he was ready to vote in favor of the new asphalt plant, but agreed to wait for more information about possible pollution.
“My family eats organic, and I support agriculture and what you’re doing for local ag and providing jobs,” Jankovsky said. “But I also know the Ellsworth family, and they provide jobs as well.
“This is also private property, and they have a right to do things on that property,” he said. “Any concerns about pollution are just speculation.”
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