Routt County commissioners to consider permit for gravel pit north of Mad Creek Canyon next week

The Routt County commissioners will consider a permit for a gravel pit on Jan. 3. The pit as proposed aims to remove safety and erosion problems created by this roughly 50 foot highwall on the property created by previous, unpermitted operations.
Routt County Planning Department/Courtesy photo

On Jan. 3, Routt County commissioners will consider approving a permit for a gravel pit north of Mad Creek Canyon that would remove 75,000 tons of material from the roughly 35-acre property.

County planning staff have recommended denying the application for the special-use permit for the proposed pit. Earlier this month, the Routt County Planning Commission recommended denial as well by a 6-0 vote.

On Dec. 20, commissioners voted to table consideration and move the public hearing to Jan. 3 because the 30 minutes on the agenda was deemed too short to explore the application.

“(On Jan. 3) we can have enough time on the agenda to conduct a full hearing,” County Planner Alan Goldich said at the Dec. 20 meeting.

While commissioners often side with county staff and planning commission recommendations, they do not have to. Staff’s report on the application asks commissioners to consider whether the plan aligns with the county’s master plan, whether a pit like this is consistent with nearby residential and agricultural uses and where impacts of the pit could be mitigated, among other considerations.

According to county staff’s report, the property — about 2.3 miles north of Mad Creek Canyon on the east side of Routt County Road 129 — was purchased by Tara Sanders in 2020. Aerial photos show it has been used as a gravel pit since about 2005, but a permit hadn’t been required because the county was unaware if gravel produced by that operation was removed.

In the summer of 2021, the Planning Department received a complaint that gravel was being removed from the site and sent to the Home Ranch near Clark for use in the riding arena. After investigation, staff sent a “cease and desist order” and started working with Sanders to get her proper permitting.

The proposed gravel pit is about 2.3 miles north of Mad Creek Canyon, on the east side of Routt County Road 129.
Routt County Planning Department/Courtesy image

Previous mining operations have left a roughly 50-foot highwall, which is the vertical face where gravel is excavated. Sanders is asking to remove that highwall and ease the slope of it, removing what Sanders’ lawyer Kent Holsinger called, “a significant safety and erosion concern,” in a letter to commissioners following the planning commission’s recommendation.

When the pit is no longer in use, its floor would be left as a potential future building site, according to documents in the planning commission packet. The report says county staff share the safety concerns but believe the situation could be fixed without removing any material, and without requiring the additional county permit.

“The dangerous situation should be remedied based on the minimum amount of mining and hauling required,” staff wrote in their report. “The way to do this is to balance the excavation and deposition in other areas, which would limit and minimize the amount of mining and hauling.”

Sanders asserts that removing the material altogether will leave a more stable slope than trying to simply grade the slope out.

Noise is also a concern with the proposed operation, and four nearby residents spoke in opposition to the application during the planning commission meeting. Sanders’ residence is the closest to the proposed pit, with others being at least 1,500 feet away.

Traffic is another concern, as the site is accessed on a small, 12-foot wide driveway that is too narrow for two vehicles to pass. The report says it could also add dozens of daily truck trips to Routt County Road 129, which staff noted is “the busiest road in the county.”

Sanders has obtained the necessary permits from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, though that does not look at noise, traffic and other potential impacts left for local governments to consider. The staff report says there are not significant concerns about how the project could affect groundwater or wetlands.  

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has also expressed concern with the project, as the site is considered habitat for elk and sharp-tailed grouse. If the application were to be approved, CPW recommended limiting operations to between July 1 and Nov. 14.

Commissioners could approve, deny or table the application. They could also choose to approve it with conditions, and county staff have listed nearly 50 potential conditions for commissioners to include.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.