For almost three hours on Monday, the Board of County Commissioners heard Crawford Country residents tell them how a proposed gravel pit near the town would violate county land use policies, wreck local lifestyles, deva-state property values and threaten neighbors' health.
One of the applicants for the gravel pit permit said some of the opponents' remarks rose to an unwarranted "level of hysteria."
The occasion was a public hearing on a specific development application for a gravel pit operation proposed near the town. Matt Jensen and his dad, local rancher Larry Jensen, want to develop the 35-acre gravel operation on an 80-acre parcel they own.
But more than 50 neighbors in the area turned out for the Monday hearing to oppose the plan. Most of them addressed the BoCC with concerns and fears which ranged from personal inconvenience to the prospect of an area-wide collapse of investment in rural residential lifestyles that has taken root in Crawford Country.
Matt Jensen told the commissioners that his proposal will mitigate the neighbors' concerns. He said that reclamation activities would proceed concurrently with mining over the 15-year life of the pit.
The Jensens' specific development application was given positive recommendations by the Crawford APC in October and by the Delta County Planning Commission last month. Both of those meetings were attended by big majorities of outspoken opponents.
The proposal is to take some 70,000 tons of gravel annually from the site, the equivalent of 11 round trip semi-trailer trips per day over the project's life. The gravel operation would be run in conjunction with the Jensen cattle operation, and revenue generated by the mining would help sustain agriculture in the area, Matt Jensen told the commissioners.
In addition, their plan assures multiple use of resources on local lands and would promote economic development here. Impacts to the neighborhood would be mitigated, all permits and regulations would be observed, and the proposal is compatible with the county's Master Plan, Matt Jensen said.
But among the issues that neighbors are in strong disagreement with is incompatibility with the existing residential investment uses in the neighborhood, and whether it adheres at all to Master Plan guidelines.
Speaker after speaker at the hearing rose to tell the BoCC that the Jensens' plan is completely incompatible both with the existing neighborhood and with the county's Master Plan.
Neighbor Larry Ribnick was first to point out the Master Plan issue. He said the Master Plan requires in cases of incompatible use that the existing uses are to be given priority. Ribnick's views were echoed over and again by others who spoke.
Sherry Jennings told the commissioners that the Jensens' specific development application is not a complete document and that it lacks required information on subjects of wildlife, access, water and other matters.
John Martindale was the first of several people who raised the issue of the crystalline silica dust created by gravel crushing operations. He and others said the dust is a particular health hazard to nearby residents and asserted that no mitigation efforts can be totally effective in eliminating the threat.
Brad Rugh, Robin Smith and others asked the BoCC simply to reject the specific development application outright.
Neighbor Rob Johnson presented the commissioners with a "petition of grievance on behalf of the community" with 113 signatures against the gravel pit plan.
Real estate appraiser John Wendt and others said that the gravel operation would negatively affect residential property values.
Kevin Bone said the plan would "crash property values" and would be a disaster for Crawford. Real estate investment in the millions of dollars would be hurt, he said. A letter from a New York pension trust manager with interest in the area endorsing Bone's view was read.
David Kaplan said the applicants' lack of fact and information in their proposal was "astounding." Susan Hillyard said the applicants had failed in carrying their required burden of proof of compatibility. She and others also noted the BoCC's denial in 2011 of a California Mesa gravel pit plan near Delta and Confluence Park on similar grounds that are being raised by Crawford residents now.
The plan was called "an industrial strip mine" and "a toxic mining operations" by others, and objections to noise, traffic and damage to views and air quality generally were also voiced by opponents. References to legal challenge if an approval is given made by several speakers.
Following the public comments, Matt Jensen responded making a number of points including the following ones:
• Local gravel resources are increasingly scarce, especially outside of riparian areas.
• The same issues being raised against the Jensens' plan will only come up again and again in future as gravel demand continues.
• Their plan is a support to local agriculture.
• The Jensens' mining plan will help preserve open space in ag uses.
• The Jensens invite air quality monitoring by neighbors as that will save the county the cost of doing it.
• The gravel operation will have all necessary permits and abide by all state health department requirements.
• Other gravel pits currently operate within the town limits of municipalities in Colorado.
Finally, Larry Jensen rose to address the commissioners and his neighbors, some of whom he has known for years.
"We have been good stewards of the land," he said. "Some of these comments have gone to a level of hysteria that isn't warranted. I am a rancher, and we have an interest in sustainable agriculture."
He advised that everyone "take the long view, not a shallow, short view."
The county commissioners took the matter "under advisement" and will render a decision at a later date.
Under the county's specific development regulations, the BoCC is obligated to make a determination on the Jensens' application within 14 days of the Monday hearing. However, they can extend that time limit with the agreement of the applicants.