No movement yet on potential new gravel mine in Summit County
A group of Summit County residents staunchly opposed to a new gravel-mining operation has raised enough money to start fighting it. The only problem is, there’s nothing for them to try to shoot down just yet.
Following a well-attended Dec. 13 open house about a potential gravel mine north of Silverthorne, many people are wondering when the company trying to start the gravel mine, Peak Materials, will file for the necessary permitting.
Peak Materials bought the roughly 80-acre Hillyard property that’s since been earmarked for a new gravel-mining operation in October. The land rests along the river west of Highway 9, about a mile south of Ute Pass Road and 12 miles north of Silverthorne, by the confluence with Slate Creek.
To mine it, Peak Materials will need two permits — one allowing mining on the Hillyard property and another to import the materials to the company’s existing facility in Silverthorne.
Speaking over the phone with Joanna Hopkins, who’s been affiliated with Peak Materials for 15 years, it sounds as if the company is slow-playing filing for the permits while officials with Peak Materials look to ease opposition and produce the best proposal they can.
“With all of the comments and feedback we’ve received, we are taking the time to really understand and fully address any short-term effects that may occur during project operations and maximize the long-term benefits that the entire community will enjoy when the site is ultimately reclaimed,” Hopkins said.
Some of the concepts presented at December’s open house include building a new park with a lake and river access once mining at the site is done. It’s only an estimated timeline, but the company has forecast that mining operations could last on the Hillyard property for about 10 years.
“We’re still working through all of that, but at the end of the day it will be restored to a beautiful property,” Hopkins promised.
Whatever Peak Materials comes up with, it’s unlikely the company will find much common ground with a group of locals who are vehemently against the proposed gravel mine unless the company is willing to altogether abandon its plans.
“All of this industrial is antithetical to the Lower Blue master plan,” John Fielder said, noting that the county’s vision for the area north of Silverthorne calls for rural, agrarian land uses like ranches, open space and wilderness, not industrial mining.
As a result, Fielder founded Lower Blue Residents United, which has now raised over $100,000 to hire expert witnesses for county hearings, along with a new chief legal strategist in Harris Sherman.
According to his bio, Sherman runs a consulting firm that specializes in public lands, energy, water, mining, forestry, recreation, Native American and conservation strategies. An attorney for over 30 years, Sherman has represented major corporations, utilities, foundations, states, cities, counties, local districts and Native American tribes on a wide variety of governmental and natural resource-related issues.
“Harris Sherman is about as good as it gets,” Fielder said.
Explaining their concerns, Fielder said that Residents United has 520 people on its mailing list, and the group is worried about potential impacts on wildlife and the landscape, as well as water-quality issues. However, they believe the single greatest impact will be added truck traffic on the highway.
Based on figures provided at the open house, Peak Materials has pitched having as many as 230 truck trips a day going from the Hillyard Property to the Peak Materials facility in Silverthorne at Maryland Creek, Fielder said.
He explained that equates to 115 empty truck trips going one way and 115 trips going the other direction with full loads, which would put a gravel truck entering the highway every three minutes during the company’s hours of operations.
“We believe that has massive safety issues for human beings and all the people using Highway 9,” Fielder warned, adding that all the truck traffic will come with additional noise, pollution and potentially more vehicle collisions.
Over the phone, Hopkins acknowledged a lot of attention has been paid to potential truck counts, but she declined to comment on them specifically. Instead, Hopkins said that Peak Materials is adjusting its plan accordingly and, when it’s ready, will address those concerns.
“We certainly heard the public on all their comments in December, and we are taking this time to be very diligent about how to address those,” Hopkins said. “We just ask for everyone’s patience as we prepare our plans, and we will circulate those back out when they’re ready.”
Meanwhile, another group of Summit County residents — Friends of the Lower Blue River — has been trying to maintain a neutral stance while keeping a close eye on the permitting process and checking in with county planners every week to see if Peak Materials has filed for the two permits.
The county’s review process won’t begin until the permit applications have been received, at which point the Lower Blue Planning Commission will consider the applications and hold public hearings as part of the process.
While the planning commission would rule on the permits, the issue could come before the three-member Summit Board of County Commissioners who would handle any appeals to the planning commission’s decision.
Referencing the likelihood the permits could come before the county commissioners, Fielder said Sherman has been hired to help Residents United “defeat the proposal at every level of county government.”
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