The Lake County Planning Commission shot down a conditional use permit for a gravel mining operation off Colo. 91 near Birdseye Gulch at a well-attended public hearing last week.
Applicant Schofield Excavation reapplied for the CUP just days after LCPC’s vote, a second chance at gaining the permitting needed to initiate a gravel operation on a 129-acre parcel approximately five miles north of Leadville.
If approved, Schofield’s operations would include mining sand, gravel and aggregate, stockpiling topsoil, producing asphalt and concrete road material, and crushing road-base over a 25-year period. Only 15 acres would be mined at a time with concurrent reclamation.
Only two locals spoke in favor of the proposal at last week’s CUP hearing: Jim Neville and Clint Conter. Neville owns the parcel Schofield would mine; Conter said the gravel operation would allow him to work in Lake County with a solid salary and benefits.
Thirteen Lake County residents, most of whom own property along Colo. 91, spoke up against Schofield’s application.
Several locals were worried about the operation’s potential environmental health impacts. Air quality, noise and smell were all identified as concerns.
“We’ll hear it, we’ll see it and we will smell it,” Dick McClain, whose property is just north of the site, told the planning commission. “Would you vote for an asphalt plant in your backyard?”
Others pointed to the safety of the Arkansas River. The river’s watercourse and wetlands extend through Neville’s property.
“Mining in Colorado has been its own worst enemy,” Doug Ruder, of Schofield Excavation, told the commission after explaining the many state regulations he would be required to follow as an operator.
Another concern was disruption of the Birdseye Gulch viewshed. The valley skirts the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway and serves as a gateway into Leadville.
“It breaks my heart to see this sort of operation right on 91,” local Chris Brasser said.
Some residents pointed to increased truck traffic along the commuter highway as their biggest concern. Others hypothesized that property values would go down if the operation was permitted.
“It’s hard to imagine that the approval of this project would enhance what we will give to our grandchildren,” McClain told the commission.
Residents also argued that a gravel mining operation is not in harmony with neighboring land uses. And though the parcel’s agricultural-forestry zoning allows for gravel mining, the Lake County Comprehensive Plan identifies conservation development as a desired future land use for the area.
Commission member Steve Boyle voted to recommend approval of the CUP to the Board of County Commissioners. Commission members Bud Elliott, Howard Tritz and Geoff Guthrie voted to deny the recommendation. Schofield withdrew its application before the meeting closed.
The company has already reapplied for the CUP. Schofield added supplemental information to its existing application including details on traffic safety, odorless asphalt processing, a monitoring well and endorsements from nearby counties the company has partnered with in the past.
A public hearing for the resubmitted CUP application is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. at the Lake County Courthouse.