The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - Ja­son Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@den­ver­post.com or @ja­son­blevins

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 pit

The 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.

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