Gypsum rejects plan for gravel pit
Shortly after over 30 residents voice concerns, the town council unanimously nixes the proposal.
After a steady stream of Eagle County residents blasted a plan to develop a gravel pit on a mesa above the Colorado River near Dotsero, the Gypsum Town Council took barely two minutes Tuesday night to unanimously reject the project.
In a four-hour emotional meeting late Tuesday, a tide of opposition to the gravel pit proposal by Elam Construction flooded council chambers.
Homeowners along Colorado River Road, which meanders along the banks of the Colorado River north of Interstate 70, lamented the noise, dust and truck traffic that would accompany the proposed gravel pit. Residents of the Two Rivers Village, a tight-knit community of entry-level homes, worried their home values would crater with a pit as a neighbor. They worried about impacts to water quality and wildlife with a gravel mine and asphalt plant between open space along the river below and BLM land above. They urged council members to consider the recreational character of the area, which is a portal to both the upper Colorado River and the popular Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
“Of the people I’ve spoken to, no one is for this except the people who will make money from it,” said Josh Farmer, who owns a storage yard near the proposed gravel pit. “Please don’t plague the Dotsero area with this for decades to come.”
Elam Construction and landowner Karl Berger were asking Gypsum to annex the land and issue a special use permit that would allow for a 10-year gravel mine and asphalt plant on about 150 acres above the river. The project stirred passionate opposition. For several years, Eagle County conservation efforts have preserved more than 1,300 acres of riverfront ranch land above Dotsero as open space, protecting it from development. Berger a month ago had finalized a $190,000 conservation easement on acreage he owned below the proposed mine site.
Berger wanted to let Elam mine gravel — 230,000 tons a year from three pits for a decade — and then the construction company would rehabilitate the property from sagebrush to pasture. The company said the supply of gravel could lower the price of aggregate building materials for the Eagle Valley.
“A competitive market could reduce prices,” said Gypsum resident Paul St. Ruth. “But is the promise of ‘could’ seriously be enough to outweigh all the negatives?”
Applause followed the more than 30 residents who spoke against the gravel project. When Gypsum’s Ken Hoeve asked opponents of the plan to stand up, pretty much every person in the crowded chambers stood. The council did not debate or discuss the plan before denying the annexation and permit request.
There were a few supporters. Tom Peterson, the executive director of the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association, offered studies showing the state’s 65 asphalt plants in 42 counties were not environmental hazards. Since 1970, Peterson said, asphalt plants across the country have reduced emissions by 97 percent while increasing production by 250 percent.
Stewart Hobbs, a second-generation Eagle County resident whose father started an excavation company in the Eagle Valley, said projects such as the gravel pit are important to the valley’s economic health.
“You can’t close the door behind you, and that’s what I’m hearing here tonight,” he said, noting how the community’s critical push for affordable housing can be helped with a local supply of building materials. “I think this can be truly a benefit to our community in so many aspects. I don’t think everyone knows how much of an impact aggregate has on projects.”
Many of the residents urged the council to let the existing gravel operations — including one in Eagle and the larger Hidden Valley pit along Deep Creek above the Colorado River not far from Dotsero — supply the county without developing a new pit.
Jeremy Rietmann, the economic development director for Gypsum, agreed that the pit would have impacts on the roughly 1,000 residents in the Gypsum area. But a decision rejecting the mine would have impacts as well, he said.
“Raw materials for everything come from somewhere,” Rietmann said, holding up his cellphone to list the dozens of metals needed to construct the modernday device. “This proposal may or may not be right for Gypsum. We are all friends and neighbors in a small community, and whatever is decided tonight, we should remain that way.”