Routt County commissioner’s deny permit for gravel pit north of Mad Creek

Proposed pit would have removed as much as 75,000 tons of gravel from the 35-acre property

This photo of a 50-foot highwall left by an unauthorized gravel pit was shared during a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 3, where Routt County commissioners denied a permit allowing removal of material from the site.
Tara Sanders/Screenshot

Routt County commissioners denied a permit for a gravel pit north of Mad Creek Canyon on Tuesday, Jan. 3, citing the proposal’s inconsistencies with surrounding land uses and the county’s master plan.

The proposed pit is on a 35-acre parcel where the previous owner had been excavating gravel illegally since at least 2005, which had left a roughly 50-foot highwall that both the applicant and county believe is unsafe.

Tara Sanders, who purchased the property in 2020, proposed mining as much as 75,000 tons of gravel from the location, which would leave a safer slope and room to build a barn in the area. Sanders planned to sell the gravel excavated locally, which requires an additional permit from the county.

But county planners deemed such a gravel pit an inappropriate use for the area, which is surrounded by homes and agricultural land uses. The operation would also need to utilize a 12-foot private driveway shared by other landowners to remove the gravel, which neighbors opposed.

“The impacts on these neighboring property owners, that is a burden they should not have to bear, in particular the use of the driveway” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan. “It’s my opinion, but it’s only an opinion, that the property owner could mitigate and achieve reclamation entirely on-site.”

Commissioners unanimously voted to deny the application, which was in line with recommendations from the Routt County Planning Commission and county planning staff.

The highwall must still be remedied though, as instructed by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. County planners proposed a cut and fill plan that would fix the safety issue without removing any material and avoid the need for a special use permit from the county.

But Anthony Waldron, a consultant hired by Sanders who used to work for the state regulatory agency, said his opinion was that cutting material away would leave a more stable slope than trying to remove some to fill elsewhere. He also said there is limited top soil available for reclamation without the larger removal of material and bringing more in from elsewhere was “absurd.”

Corrigan noted that if state regulators agree with Waldron — that the slope cannot be properly fixed with a cut and fill process and needs to be removed entirely — Sanders could apply for this permit again in the future with that added information.

Another significant reason for the denial was that unlike other gravel pits in Routt County that own the routes used to connect with county roads, this one would need to use an easement to remove the gravel that is shared with other landowners.

The Routt County Road and Bridge Department recommended that access road be widened from 12 feet to 22 feet to allow for vehicles to pass, though that could have caused an issue with an adjacent drainage ditch.

“I was shocked to hear the number of trucks that have been traveling back on that road and the situation that that creates for me is not acceptable,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond.

The original application submitted would have mined a much larger area, but Sanders pared back the request when the Routt County Planning Department expressed concerns. Under the proposal denied Tuesday, only about two acres would have been disturbed.

Prior to the denial, Kent Holsinger, an attorney representing Sanders, said they have tried to do the right thing by reducing the area mined but feel the county was not being clear with them.

“The county really pointed us in this direction and we feel largely that the county is now pulling the rug out from under this after more than a year of hard work,” Holsinger said.

The permit denial means Sanders cannot remove the gravel from the property, whether that is sold or given away for free. To grade the area out as county planners suggested only requires a grading and excavating permit, which does not require commissioner approval.

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