OPINION: Planning & Zoning Commission Public Hearing Testimony
Below is testimony from two of the many opponents at the Planning & Zoning Commission public hearing on May 23 regarding the ACA Holman major impact review. The Commission voted 4-2 to approve the pit, with some conditions, moving it forward to our three Chaffee County Commissioners.
1. At the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting of September 13th, 2016, Chairman Mike Allen stated that the mission of this Commission for this application was “the determination on adherence to code.”
2. In the subsequent meeting on October 25, I cited this quote with an additional comment that the neighboring community to the proposed gravel pit expected this commission to exercise not just “adherence to code” but also give sensitive, prudent and wise review for the impact to the neighboring community. This is on record.
3. The Chaffee County Planning and Zoning website page gives substance to this request stating, “The Planning Staff is to assist landowners in using their property and to enforce the adopted Land Use Regulations to protect property owners from Incompatible Land Use.”
4. For over one solid decade, the Chaffee County Planning Commissions and County Commissioners have prioritized residential and recreational development. Absent from the 2000 Chaffee County Comprehensive Plan were any recommendations for quantifying impacts and assessing discretions within Resource Mining review. Assistance in discretionary planning for mining became an orphaned child in the Comprehensive Plan.
5. In a Guest Opinion to the April 19, 2017 Mountain Mail, the applicant, Mr. Holman, wrote “The county has a formal public process to be followed.” A nobel sentiment. In most municipalities, if the jurisdiction has a need, it does the following:
a. Identifies the need.
b. A Planning Commission creates a search committee to make recommendations for procurement of that need.
c. Sources are identified.
d. The Planning Commission makes recommendations to the Commissioners of price and availability.
e. The Commissioners contract for the product.
6. However, in this case, this process has been truncated.
a. The Road and Bridge Supervisor constructs a “quid pro quo” with a resident, then Commissioner, for 1000 tons of material with no specification of price.
b. The Commissioner requests a permit for a land use change to meet the supply.
c. And this is done without the Planning Commission having made a formal request for either the material or a competitive bid.
7. This deviation from “formal public process” has been a violation of propriety by a County Commissioner and has eroded public trust.
8. In this same Guest Opinion, Mr. Holman, in response to months of public outrage, responded, “now I feel it necessary to state my position so folks will better understand what is going on and perhaps not be misled by less than accurate information.” He attempts to give precedence for mining aggregate at the Holman property writing, “Several years ago the county operated a pit on our ranch at the location of the proposed pit. The material worked well at the time.” Previous statements to the Mountain Mail from 2010 to the present iterate this claim.
9. In objection to this assertion, Jenny Davis, Chaffee County Attorney, in a May 18, 2017 letter to the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, responded saying, “I have spoken to the County’s Road and Bridge Supervisor, Director of Finance and Personnel, Staff Accountant, Planning Manager, and the County Administer, None are aware of the County ever being involved in mining activity or mining operation on the Holman Property.” “I have reviewed the County’s mining files and found nothing supporting Mr. Holman’s statement.”
10. Indeed, there has been a need to “not be misled by less than accurate information.”
11. It is now understood that:
a. Mr. Holman has never supplied aggregate nor has had a permit to mine at the Holman property in modern times.
b. The County never has purchased material from Mr. Holman nor granted him permit to mine material in modern times.
c. Therefore, Mining at the Holman Property has no precedent in modern times.
d. Agriculture and Ranching, as safeguarded in the Land Use Code, have the only precedent on the Holman property in modern times.
e. With residential development having been established as a priority … and mining nearly absent from County Planning, an effort to imbed mining in a residential district can now be argued as an “incompatible use.”
f. To grant a permit for an “incompatible Use” is in violation of Code and violates of the stated mission of this Commission and its chairman: “the determination on adherence to code.”
This would set a dangerous precedent: it would permit an “incompatible use” within any zoned district.
Thomas E. Syzek, MD, FACEP
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this important issue. As a physician and resident living near the proposed gravel pit, I am concerned about the negative health effects that this mining operation may have.
Based on information submitted by the applicant (“Example of Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment Construction Permit for Avery Pit dated April 24, 2007), it is known that gravel surface mining operations produce a variety of airborne pollutants. These emissions have been shown by scientific research to have negative effects on the health of individuals who breathe these emissions. In addition to the dust you can see, much of the health risks come from tiny particles in the air that are much smaller than a human hair. Are there state rules and regulations that limit these emissions from mining? Yes, there are, but these state regulations do not require continuous monitoring of airborne pollutants and they do not establish a “safe” level for exposure to prevent health problems.
When we face a problem in my field of health care, we are trained to think in terms of the risks and benefits that a given activity has for our patients. In other words, we think about what is either good or bad for a patient or population, based on the available proof, science, and studies.
So, let’s use this framework to look at the health risks and benefits from the airborne pollution produced by a gravel pit. First let’s consider the known risks. Dust and particulate matter from any source, including gravel mining, can have serious negative effects on health. Many scientific studies have shown that visible and invisible airborne pollution can cause a variety of diseases, including lung cancer; infections; heart and kidney diseases. Long term exposure to airborne particles is worse, but even short term exposure can aggravate lung disease, cause asthma attacks and bronchitis, increase susceptibility to infections, and cause complications (heart attacks and arrhythmias) in individuals with heart disease. Children and the elderly have been shown to be at particularly high risk to the effects of airborne pollution.
These are not my opinions, but are facts that have been shown from published studies. Does this mean that everyone who is exposed to the dust from a gravel pit will be guaranteed to get sick? No, this is not what research shows. What I am saying is that based on scientific studies, you are at higher risk for negative health effects, the more particles you breathe and the longer you are exposed to air pollution.
There is an additional factor that increases the health risk of exposure to airborne particles from this proposed gravel pit, and that is the wind. While they may be too small for everyone to see, I ask you to look at the graphic and tables on these exhibits showing the average direction and speed of the wind passing by the airport, which is 4.9 miles from the proposed gravel pit. The average wind speeds and gusts are considerable and come from the west. The proposed pit is situated directly west of the airport and the town of Salida. The location of the proposed gravel pit will be affected by winds carrying not just visible dust but more importantly the invisible smaller particles for many miles. In case you are wondering what windblown dust looks like, these are pictures from existing mines in our area. Remember, these are only the visible particles and not the smaller, more dangerous particles you can’t see.
So, let’s go back to the analysis of health risks and benefits of this proposed surface mining operation. I have listed the health risks that area residents will face. I should add that the diesel emissions produced by the mining equipment and transport trucks will add to the risk of health hazards. Are there any health benefits? I could not find research to show that there are any health benefits from exposure to airborne pollution from gravel pits.
Page 2 of County Comprehensive Plan states that a key goal and objective is to “improve county land use regulations to protect air/water quality, scenic areas, historic and cultural resources, and wildlife habitat.”
As members of the Planning Commission, you are in a unique position of responsibility to further these goals, particularly related to the future health of County residents. I ask that you give careful and serious consideration to the risks of the proposed gravel pit that I have outlined today, and decide in the best interests of Chaffee County residents to deny this application. From the standpoint of health effects, there are only risks and no benefits to gravel mining at this location. I believe that your decision on this issue will serve a precedent for the future direction of the county and the health of our neighbors and residents.
There has to be a better and safer resolution to this issue, and I offer my assistance in any way to find a better solution for the needs of the county while serving the best interests of all residents.