Proposed gravel pit stirs dust-up among neighbors
After 13 years, Kendall Hainey is no stranger to the land surrounding her home in the Blue Valley Acres subdivision, about 10 miles south of Kremmling on Colorado Highway 9.
A self-professed outdoorswoman, Hainey said she spends a lot of time exploring the area around her home.
The shrubby grassland is a winter range for deer and elk, with pronghorn and deer hanging around during the summer.
Hainey said she has pictures of bald eagles nesting along the section of the Blue River that snakes lazily behind Blue Valley Acres.
Now, Blue Valley Acres is expecting a new neighbor – a sand and gravel pit.
Hainey said she’s afraid for how the mining operation could affect the wildlife around her home, as well as the river and wells nearby.
And she’s not alone.
A number of residents from Blue Valley Acres and others in the county have expressed reservations about the Blue Valley Pit, which if completed will furnish sand and gravel for CDOT’s safety improvements project on Hwy 9.
The project will add special above- and below-grade wildlife crossings along an 11-mile stretch of SH-9 between Summit County and Kremmling.
CDOT hopes the additions will cut back on the unusually high number of animal collisions in that area.
Kirkland Construction, the project’s successful bidder, plans to extract around 400,000 tons of material from the approximately 30-acre site.
Kirkland Construction will also erect portable hot mix asphalt and ready mix concrete plants on the site.
Kirkland is in the process of obtaining a special use permit from Grand County to operate the pit.
Proponents say the site, located on Blue Valley Ranch, is the project’s best option due to budget constraints. Blue Valley Ranch is leasing the property to Kirkland for the mining operation.
“The cost savings realized by the State of Colorado due to the generosity of Blue Valley Ranch has literally saved this project from cancellation due to lack of funding,” wrote Baxter Kirkland, of Kirkland Construction, in a letter to the Grand County Community Development Department.
Blue Valley Ranch and its owner, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul T. Jones II, have generously supported the project, donating just under $5 million toward the effort.
Dennis Carpenter has been involved in the gravel pit business in Grand County for more than 35 years.
“I was surprised to start with,” said Carpenter, who lives northwest of Blue Valley Ranch. “I never realized that Blue Valley Ranch was going to open up a pit because there are five active gravel pits within a few miles of the project, and obviously some of them have been open for years.”
Documents from Kirkland seem to suggest that it’s the only economically feasible site.
“For those folks to come out in the paper to say if they don’t get this pit, then the projects off, that’s not true,” Carpenter said. “That’s fear mongering.”
Hainey also dismissed that assertion.
“A lot of people are under the impression that if we stop this gravel pit, then the project will stop, and that’s not the case,” Hainey said.
Kirkland Construction did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
In addition to saving money, Kirkland Construction asserts in documents that the location of the site would eliminate around 38,600 semi-truck loads of material from public roadways outside of the project area.
Still, nearby residents aren’t so sure it’s the best option.
Allison Fulton has been a resident of Blue Valley Acres for just under a year.
She said she’s seen bald and golden eagles feeding in the area and is concerned about the impact a gravel pit could have on wildlife.
“To allow our environment and wildlife to be exploited in this manner is truly an injustice,” she said. “I thought that moving next to the Blue Valley Ranch would be beneficial since they supposedly support conservation efforts and have strong community involvement. They have proven otherwise by donating this location for the project.”
Her mother Deborah, who lives just south of Blue Valley Acres in the Spring Creek subdivision, echoed her daughter’s sentiment.
“If I had known about Grand County’s disregard for wildlife, possible health hazards of the residents, along with decreased property values I would have never chosen to live in this area,” she wrote.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has taken an interest in the site, and a CPW wildlife biologist visited the site in January 2015.
In a January 30 letter to Kirkland Construction, District Wildlife Manager Rachel Leiner submitted CPW’s comments on the project.
The site is located near a greater sage-grouse breeding area, and Leiner made recommendations to minimize the site’s impact on the birds.
But Blue Valley Acres residents are more concerned about the Blue River, which flows behind the proposed pit site past the subdivision.
CPW has designated the stretch as “Gold Medal Waters,” recognizing the quality of its habitat.
Leiner wrote that “erosion control measures should be taken” to prevent sedimentation of the river.
Kirkland plans to comply with CPW’s directives, including erecting riverside erosion berms, which it will seed and mulch, to prevent sediment from reaching the river, according to its Wildlife Impact Mitigatino Plan
But Michael Corbo, who also lives in Blue Valley Acres, said he’s still wary of the environmental effects of a mining operation on the river.
“Due to the nature of surface mining and waste disposal, there will undoubtedly be pollutants added to the water that so many people use,” Corbo wrote. “I oppose the new gravel pit not because of its location, but because it is a new mining operation that will certainly have harsh impacts on the environment in multiple facets.”
Though the gravel pit is certainly a hanging point, most are unambiguous about their support for safety improvements along SH 9.
“This is going to be a good safe additional road for our county, and I’m tickled about that,” Carpenter said. “The end product is going to be a good thing.”
But Hainey said she’ll continue to fight the new gravel pit.
Grand County Board of Commissioners will decide on whether to issue Kirkland the special use permit at a hearing on Tuesday, March 17, at 2 p.m. The Grand County Planning Commission has already recommended that the board approve the permit.
Hainey has started a petition to garner opposition to the gravel pit. The petition can be reached at http://ipetitions.com/petition/no-new-gravel-pit.
If approved, Kirkland plans to operate the pit through 2015 and 2016, and into July 2017, according to documents.
In March 2017, Kirkland will begin reclaiming the land by returning the original topsoil and reseeding the area.
But Hainey said reclamation isn’t enough.
“It’s a huge hole in the ground,” Hainey said. “Even after they reclaim the land, it’s still going to look like a huge hole in the ground, and I just don’t want it.”
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