Before the start of a Lake County Planning Commission hearing on Monday afternoon, a local resident distributed a photograph of Birdseye Gulch. The picture, which was taken from the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad, showed golden aspens scattered across the mountains, Colo. 91 and a valley floor that looked empty from above.
Nearly four hours later, the commission shot down Schofield Excavation’s conditional use permit application for a gravel mining operation near Birdseye Gulch. Monday’s decision marked the second time LCPC voted to recommend denial of the CUP to the Board of County Commissioners.
When LCPC first vetoed the CUP in October, Schofield Excavation withdrew its application. The company reapplied a few days later with the intent of vetting community concerns.
On Monday, applicant Levi Schofield presented his updated gravel mine proposal to a packed house. If permitted, the operation would have included mining sand, gravel and aggregate, stockpiling topsoil, producing asphalt and concrete road material, and crushing road-base over a 25-year period.
For over an hour, Schofield explained ways that the company was working to mitigate community concerns: acceleration and deceleration lanes on Colo. 91, water monitoring wells, camouflaged buildings and silos, odor control technology, berms to mitigate noise and more.
Schofield also talked about how the mine would generate revenue for Lake County, claiming that the operation would create 32 jobs and six-to-eight million dollars in revenue over a 25-year period.
“It seems like Lake County could use a pretty good injection of money,” Schofield said.
More residents spoke in favor of the mine proposal on Monday than in October.
“I know this is upsetting to a lot of you,” Jim Neville, who owns the property Schofield Excavation hoped to mine, told the crowd. “But this is a first-grade operation.”
Lake County Public Works employees Brad Palmer and Michael Irwin also favored the proposal; they said the mine would create favorable pricing for asphalt and concrete within the county.
Others said the mine would create local jobs and asserted that mining belongs in Lake County.
“To not accept any new growth is unrealistic,” David Vallado said. “The important part is to grow wisely.”
“I don’t see any builders locally requesting this,” Jackie Duba countered.
Indeed, the majority of attendees spoke against Schofield’s proposal. Residents expressed concerns over environmental health, the safety of the Arkansas River and the disruption of the Birdseye Gulch viewshed.
Increased truck traffic on Colo. 91 was a big issue for residents who commute to Summit County daily, others thought the mine could lead to lost tourism.
Property values, which residents said were destined to plummet if the mine was permitted, were another concern for those who live along Colo. 91. Some said the valley’s peace and quiet would be forever changed.
“We moved out there to be in nature, to be in the wild ... this just feels so wrong,” Lynsey Majewski said.
“I bought my property for a reason ... it’s quiet and it’s cold,” Roy Molin added. “It’s hard to be for something that is nothing but negative except for revenue.”
LCPC echoed sentiments about the proposal’s negative effect on traffic and property values. Commission members also said a mine would lack harmony with surrounding land uses and the Lake County Comprehensive Plan.
“This project is for the wrong place at the wrong time,” commission member Bud Elliott said.
The commission unanimously voted to recommend denial of the CUP to the BOCC. The BOCC will vote on the application on Monday at 1 p.m.
“Schofield seems like they would be a good neighbor,” Dick McClain, who lives just north of the site, said at the hearing. “The issue is, I just don’t want a gravel pit as a neighbor. It changes everything.”