Tensions rise as hearing date for Summit County gravel mine approaches
Peak Ranch Resource Project objectors say they need 7 1/2 hours to make their case
Arguments about the allotment of time for each party to present at the board hearing for the Peak Ranch Resource Project drove the conversation at the pre-hearing conference Wednesday.
The project proposed by Peak Materials is a gravel mine north of Silverthorne. The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board will consider the application for the Peak Ranch Resource Project at the upcoming hearing April 21-22 and will decide whether it will approve, approve with conditions or deny the application before it would move on to Summit County officials.
The project has been adamantly opposed by residents in the area, and 58 participants attended the virtual pre-hearing conference.
Eric Scott, the environmental protection specialist lead on the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s review of the application, explained that the reason for the hearing process is due to the objections the division has received against the project. He explained that when objections to a project are received, division staff can no longer approve or deny a permit and that the proposal and objections must be heard by the board.
During the public comment period of the project application, nearly 170 objections were received, Scott said. He said the division has recommended the board approve the application with conditions and a $364,465 bond.
Pre-hearing conference officer Jeff Graves explained that topics of objections were grouped into six categories: hydrologic balance issues; wildlife, floodplain and sensitive environment concerns; mining plan adequacy; reclamation plan adequacy; reclamation bond adequacy; and issues with the Summit County conditional-use permit. Steven Mulliken, who represents the group Lower Blue Residents United, asked that application completeness be added as an issue, and participant Paul Lippe asked that impact on Colorado Highway 9 be added.
For the upcoming hearing, Graves asked the state mining division, applicant and objectors how much time they each needed to present. He noted that the board does not have unlimited time to hear each side, and he said the board can limit presentations of repeat points.
Ben Langenfeld, Peak Materials mining engineer, said the company would need 3 hours and 15 minutes to present, make a rebuttal and make closing comments. Division officials said they would need an hour to present and that rebuttal time would depend on what other parties had to say.
Mulliken said he needs five hours to present because he has three experts speaking as part of the presentation as well as five witnesses. Jonathan Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Lower Blue River, asked for about 30 minutes; Susan Knopf, representing the Elk Run Neighbors, asked for 15 minutes; Lippe asked for 15 minutes; and several attendees who are residents in the area asked for a few minutes each to speak at the hearing.
Susan Knopf objected to time constraints, citing the impact the project could have on nearby residents.
“I think it’s important that everybody understands what’s going on here,” Susan Knopf said. “Someone is trying to locate a mine in the middle of a rural neighborhood. … You all work for the state, work for the people who vote in this state. Let’s be really clear who’s time this is and make sure it’s allocated to the people who are personally and directly affected.”
Participant Elizabeth Sanjuan echoed Susan Knopf’s sentiments.
“Given the gravity of the situation, allocating somebody a set amount of time at this moment is unfair,” Sanjuan said. “If you’re talking about Mr. Mulliken’s group and Mr. Knopf’s group, we’re all fighting an enormous monster, and I think for you to put a time limit on this — and I understand there’s just two days, but people have their lives invested in this, and I think it’s short-sighted of you to try to pinpoint an amount of time when we don’t know what we’re up against.”
Graves apologized but said the time limits are part of the hearing process. He noted that requests can be made to the board at the hearing for more time.
After the initial time requests were made, Graves estimated the total objector time would come in at 7 1/2 hours, bringing the total hearing time to over 12 hours. He asked whether Mulliken could trim his presentation down, and participants at the conference shook their heads “no.”
Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety Program Director Russ Means said Mulliken’s five-hour presentation pushes other presenters out of the way, and he said the division wants to make sure people are heard.
Mulliken said he feels his presentation makes good use of time since it is an organized presentation rather than potentially repetitive statements from various individuals. Lippe agreed.
“You asked us to consolidate; they’ve consolidated,” Lippe said. “They’ve got experts. You said you don’t want lots of people saying the same thing; they’re providing an integrated expert presentation.”
Board Attorney Chuck Kooyman explained that there can’t be two full days of testimony in a two-day hearing because the board has to have time to deliberate and render a decision.
In the end, Graves said Peak Materials will get 3 hours and 45 minutes — the time was extended from original estimates for rebuttal of the opposition — the division will get nearly 3 hours and the objectors will get a total of just over 7 1/2 hours.
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