A new gravel pit operation is hoping to find a home off of Highway 50, just outside the city of Gunnison.
Gunnison Valley Properties (GVP) is proposing a “sketch plan” to develop a gravel pit in the Three Mile Plan zone to the east of Gunnison. In concept stage, that plan includes a 108-acre gravel pit, asphalt and concrete production facilities, stockpile areas, an office and truck scales, and an excavation area of 61 acres. GVP believes the gravel pit will introduce local competition to the industry and drive prices down, having a positive impact on the economy. “We think the net benefit will be bringing the price down, which will help the economy,” said Dick Bratton, one of three representatives for the company. GVP has been meeting with the Gunnison County Planning Commission since September, including a joint meeting between the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners in early November, to consider plan revisions. Revisions included moving processing equipment and stockpiles to the southeast corner of the development, with a 30-foot-tall berm to mitigate the visual impact of the mining pit on surrounding areas. In a letter to the Planning Commission, project engineer Ben Langenfeld explained, “This berm will be built with overburden and topsoil stripped during initial mining, and then vegetated. The berm will obscure most of the processing activities, with taller portions of the asphalt plant and the top of maximum sized stockpiles being partially visible.” But while those plans would obscure views for drivers on Highway 50, nearby property owners were not appeased. Property owner Aaron MacLennan, who said he had worked in mining and gravel pits, told the Planning Commission, “There is nothing you can do to hide this from my front window.” MacLennan questioned claims that the gravel pit, which is said to have a 27-year or longer life span, would increase competition in the gravel industry and generate more competitive pricing in the industry. He said mitigation measures like controlling dust add to the cost of the product, and pointed out there are more factors involved in product pricing than competition, like the state of the economy. “I believe in competition. I think it’s a good thing. It’s the American way. I’m just not sure how it benefits this here,” MacLennan said. Gunnison resident Linda Goldman said, “Right now the land is agriculture land, so then it will be industrial land. My question is, do we need more industrial land with the industrial park right there?” Resident Sally Hays said her house is on top of a hill and often above the temperature inversion. She worried about the expansion of particulate matter into the Gunnison Valley. And Mary Kay Fry read from a letter she’d written, expressing a variety of concerns including a decline in property values, the impact on the view, effects on wildlife and tourism, and increases in traffic. “Who wants to drive into a second Leadville?” she asked. Bob Delahay suggested that Gunnison County needs to be clear about where industry belongs. “What about zoning?” Delahay wanted to know. “Every place I’ve ever lived there was zoning. They always had to have a buffer zone between things, and as I remember it, the zoning went from heavy industrial to light industrial to commercial to multi-family to single family. Right here we’re going from single family to heavy industrial… I think we’re doing something wrong here.” Representatives from GVP were sympathetic to concerns about the visual impact. Bratton said, “I’m sympathetic with you, but the net result is you’re next to an existing industrial park… My guess is that overall it’s going to look a little better than it does now. But there’s going to be some impact. We’ll try to work with you any way we can to make it look better. I’ve been here a long time and I don’t intend to sell out and go to Florida or something. I’d like to see a quality project myself.” Since the November meeting, GVP has met with neighbors and other stakeholders and returned to the Planning Commission for a work session on December 7. Langenfeld explained how a shorter mine life of 20 years would result in increased noise and impacts on a daily basis, and a longer mine life of 50 years would extend its presence in the area but reduce its day-to-day impacts. “Our approach has been to design around a high production scenario… If the mine is less intense and lasts longer, your mitigations are overdesigned and more than enough to mitigate those impacts,” Langenfeld said. GVP also brought a former gravel pit operator to speak to the role of competition in the valley. But the Planning Commission wanted to see further detail from GVP, including information on the lifetime of the mine and a more comprehensive landscaping plan. “Not only is it the overall length of the mine which no one really knows, but I also have a concern about down periods. We’re in a re-expansion period as I see it, but 10 years from now maybe we go into another recession and there just isn’t any demand,” said planning commission chairman Ramon Reed. “Maybe whoever is operating it can’t make money and shuts it down until the economy picks up. That’s a concern to me.” Reed also wanted the company to address landscaping beyond simply planting trees and to address a full plan to screen visibility and to address dust and noise control from traffic and operations. The Planning Commission will revisit the plan at a January meeting, at which time it will review a draft recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners, which will then conduct a work session of its own.