Summit County denies rock-crushing permit on Tiger Road, but fears for future of river restoration
Summit County’s Board of County Commissioners were stuck quite uncomfortably between a rock and a hard place Tuesday. They ultimately sided with residents of Tiger Road by denying a permit appeal that would have allowed Peak Materials to mill rocks on Mascot Placer into gravel for sale elsewhere. The decision may slow down or jeopardize the Swan River Restoration Project, as the Mascot Placer is a key portion of the project that needs to be cleared and restored.
The commissioners’ meeting room ran out of standing space as residents waited for hours to voice their disapproval. Peak sought to open a new gravel operation concurrent with the county’s operation at William Placer, which residents fear would prolong and exacerbate the truck nightmare they’ve been living with for two years.
The hearing began with senior county planner Dan Osborn recommending that the commissioners deny Peak a conditional use permit based on the uncertainty to the amount of truck traffic that would be generated by the milling operation.
In defending the recommendation, Osborn cited a portion of the county’s land use code requiring existing infrastructure to support the use being applied for, or that the applicant provides it. In this case, Osborn said his staff believed that Peak’s additional truck traffic would create a negative cumulative effect for Tiger Road, which is a “collector” road meant for residential use.
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Peak, through its representative Joanna Hopkins, disagreed with the county staff assessment. Peak argued that the current truck traffic issue was caused by the county. The company said it would start with few trucks and gradually increase over time as county trucks going to the Williams Placer decreased, resulting in the same road traffic. County Manager Scott Vargo later pointed out that no timeline was guaranteed, and there was a chance that more trucks could very well wind up on the road.
Peak also introduced consultants to prove that Tiger Road can handle the truck traffic and that existing road damage was caused by weather, not trucks. Thus, there should be no cumulative effect on the road infrastructure.
Peaks’ attorney, Bob Gregory, pointed out that the county has not imposed any limitations for its own conditional use permit for Williams Placer, allowing its own contractor’s trucks to freely haul material. By denying Peak a permit, Gregory argued that the county would be choosing its own operation over Peak.
“Denial would be abuse of this board’s discretion,” Gregory said.
For the water conservation side, Jennifer Hopkins of the Blue River Watershed Group and Greg Hardy of Trout Unlimited both asked the commissioners to approve the permit, saying a denial would threaten the Swan River Restoration project and its grand ambition to rejoin two vital watersheds, as well as deny $1.5 million in in-kind donations promised by Peak to offset costs for the project.
However, that’s all the support Peak had at the hearing. Over a dozen Tiger Road residents went to the podium to vent the frustration they’ve been living with for years.
Jerry Belver said that he “felt trapped in his own home” because he had to close his windows and not be able to use his deck from all the noise being generated.
Pamela O’Neill and her husband Jack echoed that sentiment, saying the 2,000 property owners near Tiger Road had a right to enjoy their property.
Deb Spears, a cyclist, said that the road doesn’t have enough room for both trucks and cyclists. Anne Marie Chapin added that her grandkids biked down the road and she didn’t think it was safe for them.
Laurel Harris said that she was delayed getting to the hearing because a truck hit her garbage can.
“I saw in real life what it takes a truck to stop,” Harris said. “That truck had 140 feet to brake to a stop and it couldn’t do it.”
After the parade of comments ended, the commissioners had to come to a decision, and it was begrudgingly unanimous: the Upper Blue planning commission’s denial of the permit was upheld.
Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said that despite how important the Swan River Restoration is, she could not feel comfortable allowing the permit given the cumulative impact on Tiger Road, as well as the impact on residents and the safety concerns they raised. She was also not satisfied with the mitigation strategy proposed by Peak.
Commissioner Thomas Davidson agreed with his colleague on upholding the permit denial, but did so very reluctantly. Davidson agreed that subjecting Tiger Road residents to the possibility of more truck traffic was unfair, but also expressed his dismay that the Swan River Restoration might be threatened, as it was a huge benefit for the community as well as Tiger Road residents.
“It’s really painful to say no to this,” Davidson said. “We’re taking a risk that we’ll never see the last reach restored the way we hoped.”
Davidson added that the state’s gravel operations would continue unimpeded, and the booming economy meant that material would be hauled out and cause an inconvenience anyway.
Commissioner Dan Gibbs put in the final “no” vote for the same reasons given by his fellow commissioners, the Upper Blue planning commission and county planning staff. However, he pointed out to Chapin, who was worried about her grandkids’ safety with the trucks, about what the future stood to lose if the Swan River Restoration was halted.
“In a generation from now, people might think, ‘Why didn’t they finish it?’” Gibbs said. “Your grandkids would be missing out on that legacy.”
In signing the resolution ending Pike’s appeal process, Gibbs left on a optimistic note.
“I do think Swan River Restoration will go ahead, and that this is just a speed bump along the way,” he said.
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