OPINION: Why We Are Against the Proposed Gravel Pit
By Wayne Somers
Note: The following statement is excerpted from a longer letter delivered to the Chaffee County Commissioners, to serve as input prior to the Major Impact Review Public Hearing for the ACA-Holman Gravel Pit Application. You can view the full letter as a PDF file, by clicking here.
The hearing will commences Monday, June 19, at 5:30pm at the County Fairgrounds.
Over 1,100 Chaffee County citizens have already signed the petition to stop the proposed pit on Frank Holman’s property from becoming a reality. That number includes the owners of over 200 properties in the corridor along CR 140 west of Hwy 285 and north of Hwy 50 to the BLM. They are new arrivals and life-long residents, young and old, rich and poor, Frank Holman’s neighbors and your neighbors. They have one thing in common…they all believe that this pit will have a very negative and long-lasting effect on surrounding properties, the greater Salida community and on Chaffee County.
This pit has ramifications that go far beyond the County’s need for road base. Concerns begin with the ethical, and very likely legal, issues associated with an elected official trying to leverage his connections and political clout to seek approval for a very lucrative personal project while still in office…not once but twice…and they extend all the way to long- term concerns about the impact of this pit and similar incompatible land uses on the future growth and prosperity of Chaffee County. Very few issues are all black or all white. Very few people are all good or all bad. Frank Holman and Paul Moltz have done their share of commendable things for Chaffee County. This is not one of them.
Road Base Crisis – Reality or Myth?
At the basis of this entire application is the assumption that the county is facing a critical shortage of suitable road base needed to maintain its gravel roads. Proponents have painted a bleak picture of what county roads will be like if this pit is not approved. The Applicant is portrayed as a selfless public servant willing to devote over 60% of his family ranch to a gravel pit that will provide the county with the road base it needs to maintain those roads. These assertions require some scrutiny.
In response to questions about the County’s annual requirements for road base, we were given an estimate of 8,000-10,000 tons per year. That relatively small usage may, in fact, be a reasonable assumption for future needs but even that low number seems somewhat inflated based on actual usage in recent years.
County records suggest that the actual purchases of gravel for 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined were only $70,000…roughly 7,000 tons and less than $25,000 per year.
Whether the actual requirements are 3,000 tons or 10,000 tons is somewhat irrelevant. The fact remains that road base is a relatively minor commodity for the county and certainly not something that warrants approving a new gravel pit in a residential area.
Regardless of which figures one uses for the County’s road base requirements, any objective assessment of the circumstances and facts surrounding this application suggest that its justification is based on false pretenses. This creates a very strong appearance of impropriety and bias in the handling of this application.
Impact on Property Values
The impact of this pit on neighboring property values has been an issue for opponents from the beginning. In a November meeting with Jon Roorda, we were told that property values would not be a consideration in the Major Impact Review because there was no way to quantify that impact. Precisely quantifiable or not, it seems inconceivable that a Planning Commission charged with responsibility for evaluating a Major Impact Review would ignore one of the more obvious and immediate impacts of permitting a noisy, dirty and totally incompatible industrial land use in an established residential area.
In a 2006 letter to the Chaffee County Commissioners opposing a proposed pit in Buena Vista that would have become a competitor of ACA Products Karin Adams, now Vice Chair of the Planning Commission and business associate of Paul Moltz wrote, “Regardless of any caution or compliance with the soils being disturbed, there will undeniably be dust, noise, traffic, and have a very negative impact by and on the river for fishermen, rafters, and public in general.” If the noise, dust and traffic would prove to be a nuisance for fishermen and rafters momentarily passing by, imagine what it would be like to live with it day-in and day-out for 25 or more years.
During public hearings, the Planning Commission gave no credence to the health-related concerns raised by opponents of the proposed pit. Despite irrefutable medical evidence confirming the health hazards of crystalline silica and the small particulate matter contained in gravel pit dust, the Planning Commission chose to ignore this risk as a consideration in the Major Impact Review.
Absence of Economic Justification
Something classified as a Major Impact Review should include a thorough and objective analysis of the Net Economic Impact that the proposed operation would have on neighboring property owners and the county as a whole. This study should be completed in an unbiased, transparent manner with input from the public. There has been no evidence of any attempt by the county to evaluate the impact of this pit on any level other than as a supply of road base. To the contrary, the County has given little credence to citizen concerns, relying instead on a very cursory one-page endorsement from Wendell Pryor, Director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation and a long-time associate of both Applicants. We know of no other assessment of the economic impact that this pit would have on the county…short or long term.
In his letter to the County Commissioners, Mr. Pryor endorsed the pit and stated it would “…increase the taxes to Chaffee County by approximately $3,000 per year on an ongoing basis…” and added, “There will be at least one additional employee added depending on the demand for the materials.”
Who Really Benefits from This Pit?
As previously stated, the County’s total requirement for road base is, 8,000-10,000 tons per year at most and considerably lower than that in recent years. A 27.7-acre pit will likely yield well over two million tons of gravel during its lifetime…enough to provide the county with road base for over two hundred years and provide the Applicants with a very lucrative industrial business. Although the public justification for this pit has been focused on solving the County’s looming shortage of road base, the facts suggest that this is more likely a very lucrative operation for both applicants.
Over 1,100 very active people in our community have already voiced their opinion of the proposed pit. They are asking this Commission to hear their voices and stop this pit from becoming a reality.
Each of you was elected on the basis of campaign promises to act in the best interest of the county and all of its citizens…not just a select few. You were elected because we felt you had the vision and leadership qualities necessary to “preserve and protect the health, safety and general well-being of the present and future residents of Chaffee County.” The proposed gravel pit provides very few benefits to the County but it has far-reaching negative consequences for the County if approved and every dust cloud over the horizon or new pothole in CR 140 will be a reminder to citizens of how this Commission responded to our concerns. Those concerns are both well-documented and well-founded but they have been given little credence thus far. We are asking you to hear those concerns and act in our best interests.
Thank you for listening to our voices and considering our position on this issue.
The above is an excerpt of a longer letter. You can view the full letter as a PDF file, by clicking here.