If approved, the Special Use Permit would allow applicants Haldorson and Sons, Inc. and Pete and Jerry Spor to take over a gravel pit permit issued to Farmers Construction in 1997. It would also allow them to expand the gravel pit from 10 acres to 37.7 acres in a three-phase process over a period of 22 years and allow up to 180,000 tons of gravel to be hauled per year. The additional asphalt batching plant would operate 10 to 36 weeks a year, from roughly May to September. Hours of hauling, which currently take place Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., would be increased by one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon.
San Miguel County Assistant Planner Karen Henderson opened the meeting with a detailed summary of the proposal and listed possible recommendations the planning commission could make to the San Miguel County Commissioners. While the gravel pit operation is allowed by right under the Wright's Mesa Master Plan, the county may consider its effects on neighbors, visual impacts, lighting, traffic impacts and highway safety. The status of a Colorado Department of Transportation road access permit issued in 1997 is currently in question, and not yet determined, said Henderson.
The asphalt batching would be contracted out and contractors would supply a plant to the site. The applicants would keep a daily log to evaluate performance and compliance with state standards, said Henderson. Crushing would take place in an enclosed area and dust would be controlled with water or a chemical application. A 30-foot tree buffer on the western and southern portion of the property would be maintained to shield neighboring properties, as well as a buffer to protect severe winter range for elk and deer.
"I've permitted sixty or so gravel pits in the state of Colorado" and have always maintained a good distance between the plant and the neighbors, said Greg Lewicki, who represents Haldorson and the Spors, noting his intention to work closely with Mark Vandenberg and Linda Bunker, the two neighbors most directly affected by the gravel pit expansion. "The [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] takes this stuff very seriously, and we are very open to that," he said.
Lewicki said he is committed to making sure any asphalt plants brought onto the site are in compliance with state standards and that they would be in operation no more than 50 percent of the time within the allotted May-September time frame. As for visual impacts, Lewicki admitted that the current stockpiles of gravel that are visible from Highway 145 "were a mistake.
"You'll see less and less because the operation will be within the 25-foot cut," said Lewicki, stating that all mining would occur from the bottom of the pit, with the exception of the removal of trees and a "thin veneer of topsoil. There was an old, pre-law mine out there. That will get absorbed and fall under current regulation."
During the meeting Lewicki announced that he would increase from 30 to 50 feet the buffer on the northwest corner adjoining Vandenberg's property. In addition, he promised that all trucks would be equipped with a new type of back-up horn that is designed to sound only when a person or object is within 20-25 feet of its path.
"I believe I'd be extremely surprised if" the noise level at Vandenberg's and Bunker's properties "ever got to be more than 45 decibels," said Lewicki, assuring he was committed to adhering to the 55-decibel state noise standard.
Other issues Lewicki addressed included weed management and re-vegetation. He said he has suggested a bond of $22,500 to the Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology for reclamation, and that there would be no more than 15 acres of exposure at any one time. The applicants plan to reclaim as they go from phase to phase, he said. When asked about access to water, Lewicki said he had already received a commitment from the Town of Norwood to supply water to the operation.
Perhaps the most significant issue of concern for all parties Wednesday was road access and highway safety.
"That is a very, very, very blind corner," said Planning Commission Chairman Oak Smith of the Hwy. 145 entrance to the property near the top of Norwood Hill.
Once the 1997 CDOT permit is located and reviewed, CDOT will determine the number of loads per day that will be allowed to and from the gravel pit. That number is currently 30, according to Lewicki. "We will probably be OK if that is an average," he said, but if 30 is the maximum number of loads allowed during peak asphalt operations, "we will have to mitigate." Lewicki predicted that 60-65 loads per day would be necessary during peak asphalt production.
"One of my main concerns is highway access," said Walt Ditton, who lives directly across from the entrance to the gravel pit and owns a repair shop at the intersection of Hwy. 145 and Lone Cone Rd., near another gravel pit operation. "I see an average of six-to-seven accidents a year" at that Lone Cone intersection, "and they're primarily because of gravel trucks," he said. "I can see there is a tremendous problem with the highway access with this [Spor] property… That is a very short point with me."
"You cross your fingers and you just hope no one is coming," said Lori Herndon of the section of highway near Norwood Hill.
"We have what we call the Wright's Mesa salute," said Smith, describing what you see each morning and evening as commuting drivers shade their eyes from blinding sunlight.
Vandenberg, owner of the San Miguel Veterinary Clinic, said one of his technicians recently had her windshield smashed by a rock from a gravel truck. "I'd like to see covered loads," he said. "I think that's a dangerous intersection."
Vandenberg also shared his other issues with the commission. The 50 acres of land he purchased 25 years ago was "set aside to be peaceful, to be tranquil. This is not what I anticipated," he said, going on to address the setback, loss of trees, beetle kill, water and asphalt. "I don't know much about asphalt plants, except everyone says they stink…
"What I'm asking for is, maybe a little more time to understand how the impacts will be mitigated," he said.
Vandenberg's neighbor, Bunker, expressed concern for the size of the operation's berms and setbacks, the effect on wildlife, the order and size of each phase of the project, and the life span of the permit. "Can this go on forever? Or just 22 years," she asked. "I want to understand what the issues are so we aren't surprised."
"There are so many issues, I don't even know where to start," said John Sadler, who owns 140 acres across the highway from the gravel pit. "I can't imagine the county approving something like this. It's suicidal!" Aside from traffic safety, one of Sadler's biggest concerns is the loss of trees on Wright's Mesa to beetle kill, something he attributes to the former sawmill, located next to the Spor's gravel pit. He urged the planning commission to require Lewicki to put up a bond of $1 million or more. "Let's see what the choke point is," he said, and vowed to fight the applicants "with everything I've got."
Resident Walter Farnham has already experienced living near a gravel pit southeast of Norwood. "I can guarantee you can hear the gravel crusher when it's crushing," he said. Farnham also noted the remediation process for the pit near his house, which is now closed, was minimal. "They planted 10 to 12 trees and now it looks like a gravel pit with 10 to 12 trees." There are eight-to-nine gravel pits within 12-15 miles of Norwood, and it all travels through Norwood, he said. "When is enough enough? When people ask what we do in Norwood I say 'We supply gravel to Telluride.'"
Jackson Ordean, who has 40 acres contiguous with Bunker's property, asked the planning commission to examine Greg Lewicki and Associates' history of bond compliance, and called bonds under $1 million "meaningless." He was also critical of increased traffic: "That traffic danger is unconscionable," he said.
Smith ended the meeting by expressing concern over two specific issues: water and traffic safety. He asked to see, in writing, how much water would be needed to operate the gravel and asphalt operation, and a commitment from the Norwood Water Commission that guarantees that the necessary water is available. He also said no recommendation could be made to the county commissioners before hearing from CDOT.