Our View: Weighing the long-term | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Weighing the long-term

What was once a primary source of gravel for the Yampa Valley soon could be city-owned open space, with wetlands, riparian areas and an abundance of wildlife.

That’s the plan for the 102-acre Lafarge North gravel pit near Colorado Highway 131. Lafarge is nearly finished with reclamation of the pit, and the city is in the process of acquiring the property, which will be managed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The project is a joint effort of the city and the DOW and also has the blessing of Routt County.

Lafarge discounted the price of the property to $896,000, which will be funded by $563,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado, $298,000 from the DOW and $35,000 from the Purchase of Development Rights program. The city is expected to close on the property soon.

Had Lafarge not mined gravel at the north pit for more than two decades, it’s likely the property would have been developed years ago. Instead, the city has the chance to acquire it for open space, one of the highest priorities identified by the community in the Community Area Plan Update.

Put simply, the project is an example of the opportunity that gravel pits can present long-term. That’s a factor the city and county should keep in mind in considering future gravel pit operations, including Lafarge’s proposal for a pit on the More Ranch in the South Valley. The county is expected to decide on approval of that pit next month.

The extraction of gravel is an emotional issue. In the short-term, such pits can be eyesores that generate noise, dust and traffic that are a nuisance to residents, most notably those who live in the vicinity of such pits. Opponents of the More Ranch pit have made such arguments against its approval. Ironically, those opponents include the city of Steamboat Springs, which has taken the lead in the reclamation of the Lafarge North pit.

We have advocated for approval of the More Ranch site in the past, taking the view that its benefits outweigh its drawbacks. No one wants to look at a gravel-mining operation. But as long as the community needs roads and housing, such pits are necessary. The growth and development projected in the Stagecoach area will drive demand for gravel. Having that gravel close to construction reduces costs and lessens the effect on the community. And of the sites available, the county’s own gravel matrix identified the More Ranch site as the best option.

In reclaiming the north pit, Lafarge planted trees and grass, re-established wetlands and re-graded the property. The land is adjacent to the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area, and plans are to manage it similarly.

“We think this is a great project and a great model for the future of how gravel extraction can be a real benefit in the long run in terms of the protection of open space, wildlife habitat and riparian areas,” said Lind Kakela, the director of intergovernmental services for the city.

Gravel pits always will be a tough decision for governmental agencies. But as the Lafarge North pit shows, the potential long-term benefits must be weighed just as carefully in the decision-making process as the short-term drawbacks.

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