Gravel mine plan for Colorado River area near Dotsero tabled to January
Eagle County Planning Commission not currently in favor of proposal
A plan to mine land near the Colorado River did not receive a favorable review Wednesday from the Eagle County Planning Commission, with four commissioners disapproving of the idea.
But the commission stopped short of voting against the Dotsero Area Plan exception needed to create the mine, tabling the application until January at the request of the applicant.
Applicant Rincon Materials seeks to operate a gravel mine in a 69.5-acre area along the north side of the Colorado River; the digging would occur in three pits and would also require an access road, conveyor route and facilities area.
Rincon Materials owner Mike Young, along with project engineer Ben Langenfeld, presented the application to the planning commission Wednesday with the acknowledgment that it was not the first iteration of a Dotsero mine plan presented to a public board in recent years. The Rincon team’s presentation began with a summary of the differences between their project and the project rejected by the Gypsum Town Council in 2016.
Langenfeld also worked on the 2016 plan; that plan included an asphalt plant which was eliminated after the property changed hands.
Young acquired the property in 2019 and began talking to local residents about the gravel pit idea, Langenfeld told the commission, concluding that a gravel-only operation which uses a conveyor instead of trucks and does not remove the river-facing rock would be a preferred approach if the area was mined.
Young is planning to build homes in the area once the gravel is removed from the pits, Langenfeld said, and the mining is simply a first step to that end.
“Our priority is to extract this natural resource as we’re preparing the ground for these longer-term, rural-agricultural, low-density residential uses,” Langenfeld said.
Young is a luxury real estate developer in Eagle County; he founded Sentry Construction in 1985 and has “a vast portfolio comprised of over 30 years experience and 400+ homes built,” according to sentrybuilt.com.
In Dotsero, Young constructed a man-made waterskiing lake where an “exclusive private club offers access to the lake, boats, locker room, and camping area along a half mile bank of the Eagle River,” according to sentrybuilt.com/lake.
Young said he held two meetings in Dotsero about the mine plan.
“The first meeting was with all the residents on the River Road, and they had a lot of good input,” Young said. “The second meeting we put out and were able to use the community center at Two Rivers, and there was maybe just under a dozen people there. We thought there would have been more, but we gave them 30 days notice, and we refreshed their memory, and it went through their whole HOA, and we’re surprised nobody showed up, but the concerns, really, there weren’t that many concerns.”
Not ’clearly in the public interest’
In Eagle County, mining is not a use by right on private property. In areas zoned resource or industrial, a special use permit is required to operate a mine. To be considered for a special use permit, the extraction plan must align with the area’s comprehensive plan.
For the gravel mine, an exception to the 2012 Dotsero Area Community Plan is first required before a special use permit can be considered.
“When we look at the Dotsero Plan, which is applicable for this site, it does have a stipulation that if something is not in alignment with the FLUM (future land use map) designations, an exception is required,” said Eagle County Associate Planner Colton Berck.
Berck said county staff does not recommend commissioners approve the exception as the plan does not meet all of the standards of approval. Unmet standards of approval include “unique or extraordinary situation or opportunity that was not anticipated or vetted,” and “clearly in the public interest and addresses a viable public need.”
Commissioners questioned whether a gravel mine was contemplated in the 2012 Dotsero Area Community Plan.
Commissioner Robert Warner said he would like to support the gravel mine, but the Dotsero Plan calls for planners to “Avoid negative impacts from utility installations and resource extraction operations.”
Commissioner Brian Judge said that language in the plan — specifically the use of the word extraction — suggests a mine could be allowed.
“It seems to me that it must have been at least contemplated in that region if it’s specifically discussed as avoiding impacts in the case of extraction,” Judge said.
“Just because it says avoid negative impacts doesn’t mean it’s calling for those uses,“ Berck said.
The idea of extraction has also widened in recent years to include more than mines. Certain styles of ranching are now considered extraction among researchers for the water and plants needed to fatten cattle prior to slaughter, among other reasons. The Dotsero Plan asks planners to “Preserve ranching and agricultural land uses and features.”
A peer-reviewed study published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 2003 found that “Significant parts of the nutrient pool are removed from the rangelands and relocated to wastewater treatment plants,” as a result of cattle ranching.
“With respect to carbon biomass, ranching is an extractive industry,” the study concluded.
Irrigated pastures were listed among the ideas for the area once the gravel is removed, along with the low-density residential area. The gravel is expected to take 10 years to remove.
Protecting water rights for agricultural use was cited among the benefits of the project, along with the construction benefits that come with more gravel availability in Eagle County.
But much of the commission’s concerns were directed at the post-mine operation. Judge said he would not support the final grading aspects of the land.
“If you dotted a bunch of houses around on it, and came up with a sustainable plan after you excavated it, would I support that master plan?” Judge asked, rhetorically. “And that’s where I struggle, to be honest. I know that’s not the evaluation and criteria and so forth, but it is part of the thought process of what’s being put out there.”
Commissioner Dee Wisor asked if there were any assurances that the residential development would occur after the gravel is removed.
“We can’t propose that at this point, because we don’t know the exact extent of it,” Langenfeld said.
The application was tabled to Jan. 6, at which time Rincon Materials will present to the commission once again. Voicing his support of the project, Commission Chair Greg Moffet said he’s not looking forward to another meeting.
“We have provided more process than is due in this situation,” Moffet said.
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