He wants to do the same rehabilitation to the roughly 130 acres he owns above the river. Elam Construction, after 10 years, will grade the mesa, plant native grasses and return the sagebrush and scrub oak mesa to green pasture.
“Do I want a gravel pit on my property? Not necessarily. But these guys, Elam, they are promising to do all the heavy lifting and pay for it and put my land into the condition you see along the river,” said Berger, who has raised three kids in the Eagle Valley.
Berger said he understands the concern from river lovers about impacts. He said he spent five years negotiating with Elam Construction to assure operational safeguards and developing reclamation plan that will restore the land as a working ranch.
“It’s a special stretch of river,” said Berger, who said the ranch was in terrible shape in 2004 when he bought it from a mine operator with plans to unearth a limestone deposit in the middle of the Flat Tops, using the ranch as a processing area. “I’m a land reclamation guy. I’m not some evil industrialist. I feel absolutely blessed that I am a steward of that piece of property.”
The beauty of Berger’s Coyote Ranch is something everyone in Eagle County can agree on. Since 2011, Eagle County’s mill-levyfunded open space program and Great Outdoors Colorado have spent more than $10 million acquiring more than 1,300 acres of riverfront ranch land along the Colorado River above Dotsero. The county has protected more than 6 miles of riverfront as well as water rights. The county has built four boat ramps along the idyllic stretch of river from State Bridge to Dotsero, where the Eagle River joins the Colorado River. The goal of the deal with Berger was to protect scenic corridors, water rights and riparian habitat on the acreage, said Toby Sprunk, the director of the Eagle County Open Space program.
“This was a relatively small but very important property,” Sprunk said.
River advocates fear not just the plant, but its potential threat to years of conservation work along the river corridor.
“The precedent here certainly concerns me,” said Nathan Fey, the Colorado director for American Whitewater, which has spent a decade laboring to secure a federal Wild and Scenic River designation for the Upper Colorado. “I don’t think this is the right location. What is the risk of contamination from the asphalt plant?”
Elam Construction, in a mid-November presentation to the town, said its 10year plan would benefit the Eagle Valley’s construction industry by providing highquality sand and gravel that could “minimize the monopoly on the valley” — where B&B Excavating controls most of the supply of aggregate for new construction — while supporting local contractors and roadway improvements.
The Town of Gypsum has seen its aggregate costs for new projects climb 20 percent in the last two years. Last month the town got a letter from its aggregate supplier that prices were climbing another 7 percent next year. Most contractors and road builders have to import gravel from Garfield and Mesa counties to the west.
The town wants to encourage land uses that mirror Dotsero’s renown as a gateway to some of the finest recreation in Colorado, Gypsum town manager Jeff Shroll said.
The gravel pit won’t necessarily do that and it won’t make the town any money. But it could improve the valley’s aggregate market, saving local contractors and Eagle County municipalities money.
“It’s always a concern if there’s not competition on a very needed commodity,” Shroll said.
Still, he admits the gravel pit plan was not expected.
“This caught us a little bit flatfooted,” he said, noting that the town’s approval could include strict contingencies and safeguards above and beyond state and federal guidelines. “The annexation opens the door to negotiate a little more on our behalf and the public’s behalf.”
Elam Construction has filed permits with the Colorado Department of Transportation for a new access road, the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The dry pit — known as a terrace pit — will not require water for operations and will discharge only stormwater. Elam and Berger have developed mitigation strategies to reduce noise, dust, traffic and visual impacts, which include a paved access road, dustsettling irrigation and berms blocking views of the mining and buildings.
“There’s nothing more possibly we can do to make this thing more non-impactful,” Berger said.
Eagle County in 2012 released a community plan for Dotsero. The plan — developed after meetings and surveys with the region’s residents and landowners — noted that Dotsero “is perceived by many as a location where land uses ‘pushed’ from upper valley communities have found an affordable home.”
With a gravel pit in Eagle, a biomass facility that turns beetle kill into electricity and a massive gypsum wallboard plant in Gypsum, the downvalley communities of the Eagle Valley are home to industrial operations that no longer fit the area around Vail and Beaver Creek resorts.
The Dotsero community plan recognized this perception and elevated recreation as a potential economic engine that could guide development in the area. Gypsum, which annexed a private water ski lake in Dotsero five years ago, envisions a future where the town has a role in guiding development on its western border.
Commercial development, according to the community plan, should “provide opportunities for businesses that would support or enhance the reputation of Dotsero as a recreational destination and portal to the Colorado River corridor.”
The plan designated Berger’s Coyote Ranch as a potential residential and agricultural area, where future land use should “avoid negative impacts from utility installations and resource extraction operations.”
Eagle County’s board of commissioners in October penned a letter to Gypsum planners expressing concerns that the mining operation “may permanently alter” recreational, rural and agricultural attributes identified in the county’s community plan for Dotsero. The commissioners cited potential mining impacts to Dotsero’s Two Rivers Village residential community, recreation along the river, air and water quality issues, traffic, night lighting and damage to scenic corridors.
While the commissioners said the proposal “appears inconsistent with several policy goals” — like the Dotsero community and open space plan — they did like the long-term plan to convert the property back to rangeland and wildlife habitat.
Local river advocates have been trumpeting a call to arms against not necessarily the asphalt plant, but its proximity to open space and the river.
“It makes no sense to put a pit beside a conservation easement, especially in that location,” said Greta Campanale, who regularly rafts and kayaks that stretch of the Colorado River with her family. “I understand the financial incentive, and also that this is a finite period of time, but it’s not a good enough argument to support that kind of operation so close to the river.”
One request from the river community is that the town require a third-party to craft the mitigation and reclamation plans, not just Berger and Elam.
“I’m not sure the town has enough information to make a decision right now,” said Paul St. Ruth, a Gypsum businessman and paddler who is helping craft his town’s master plan, which was last updated in 1999. “We have a bunch of promises and assumptions but no data and studies showing any long-term impact on wildlife, fish and the people who live in that area. Those things may very well be negligible. But we don’t really know the impacts and we need more information.”
“I’m a land-reclamation guy. I’m not some evil industrialist. I feel absolutely blessed that I am a steward of that piece of property.” Karl Berger, who bought the ranch in 2004
A kayaker paddles upstream on the Colorado River near Dotsero next to a pasture that has been preserved as open space. The landowner of that pasture, Karl Berger, is asking for the Town of Gypsum’s approval to develop a gravel pit on the mesa above the river. Jason Blevins, The Denver Post
Proposed gravel pitThe Denver Post
Gypsum’s town council on Tuesday will discuss plans for a gravel mine and asphalt plant on part of the Coyote Ranch near the confluence of Deep Creek and the Colorado River.