Gravel pits growing along Colorado River |

Gravel pits growing along Colorado River

Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent A bulldozer moves gravel at one of the gravel pits east of Rifle.

RIFLE – On a late winter day along the Colorado River there is a breath of spring in the air. A great blue heron stands sentinel in the shallows, motionless. A short distance upstream, a pair of bald eagles are tending a nest in an ancient cottonwood tree.This unspoiled stretch of river, just east of Rifle, is the first thing people see when they’re coming off Interstate 70 into town. City Councilman Alan Lambert wants to keep it that way. But that pristine entryway is in danger of being wiped out.Further up the river from Rifle, a series of gravel pits have long supplied local contractors with aggregate for concrete. But demand for gravel is rising, as are concrete and asphalt needs, and existing pits are being mined out.

Much of the current demand is fueled by oil and gas developers building new well pads and roads. In the last few months Garfield County has seen three applications forpermits for expansions of existing operations and a brand new pit just outside Silt.Nancy Limbach has taken in injured and abandoned wildlife on her land south of Silt for 25 years. Now she faces the prospect of a gravel pit a few hundred yards away. This winter, Limbach has about 25 bears in hibernation on her land – injured or orphaned bears brought to her by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to be nurtured back to health .With a gravel pit close by, trucks will add to the daily run of oil and gas traffic.”I worry about the animals,” she said.

She also worries about what she sees as continuous gravel mining between Silt and Rifle, she said. Gravel has become both a blessing and a curse on this stretch of the Colorado River. Deposited by the river over millennia, the gravels are up to 25 feet deep on either side of the river. Mining is relatively straightforward. Pit owners bring in heavy equipment to scoop out the gravel and set up concrete and asphalt plants right on site. Glenwood Springs attorney Scott Balcomb, who owns the property near Limbach, said oil and gas development, in part, is driving the need for gravel.”There is no question the gravel market is enhanced by the energy business. Overall the gravel business is very good right now,” he said.

The three pit applications before the county include Glen’s Pit, which will be operated by Old Castle SW Group doing business as United Companies of Mesa County. The pit would be south of Highway 6&24, north of the Colorado River and one mile east of Rifle. United also operates the nearby Chambers Pit, which is mined out and slated for reclamation this spring.United is also looking to expand its gravel operation to land it owns south of the Colorado River. The 93-acre Scott pit would be a half-mile east of Rifle, north of I-70 and west of a large gravel pit operated by LaFarge. It is the Scott pit that would extend along the south bank of the river to within a half-mile of the entrance ramp off I-70 at Rifle. The Scott Pit is expected to have a mining life of a little more than 10 years, according to the special use application filed with Garfield County in December.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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