Willoughby: Dotsero gravel mine is all about money
Never mind the timeless natural beauty of the Colorado River corridor flowing through Eagle County. Forget about the pastoral landscapes of working ranches that have shaped the character of the countryside for generations. Push wildlife and trout fishing out of your mind. And, for the moment at least, try not to think about the dubious process underway attempting to override Eagle County staff recommendations, the established standards of the Dotsero Area Community Plan and the broader Eagle County Comprehensive Plan by granting the proposed Rincon Gravel Mine an exemption for an unsupported use that starkly contradicts the outcome of a public planning process several years in the making.
Let’s focus on what this is really about: Money.
To be fair, I’m not even talking about the money that a single individual stands to gain through industrial extraction of resources along the rural river corridor. Instead, let’s consider the money that we as Eagle County taxpayers have invested in the Colorado River corridor through the Eagle County Open Space program established nearly 20 years ago.
Since 2002, Eagle County homeowners have been paying into the system promising to enhance the quality of life for county residents through the acquisition and preservation of open space parcels, and in 2011, Eagle County Open Space and several partners began a concerted effort to improve access to the Colorado River specifically. Citing a recognition of “the need to enhance recreational opportunities on the upper Colorado River while at the same time protecting an incredible resource,” the Open Space program focused on the lower reaches of the river in Eagle County (i.e., Dotsero), and began “actively seeking properties that provided strategic river access points” and “properties that consolidated and connected public lands, allowing residents and visitors expanded opportunities to experience the beauty of this section of the Colorado River.”
As a result, Eagle County Open Space spent $650,000 in tax dollars on the 8.5-acre Dotsero Landing boat launch site in 2011 and nearly $200,000 more for a conservation easement on the 38-acre Dewey Park parcel just upstream a few years later. Beyond these two scenic bookends abutting the proposed Rincon Mine scar, Eagle County residents have invested $5.25 million on a conservation easement and boat launch at the picturesque Colorado River Ranch and another $1.2 million on the nearby Nottingham/Red Dirt Creek property as “part of a larger effort to increase river recreation and conservation.”
All told, Eagle County Open Space has invested roughly $10 million in tax money on Upper Colorado River Conservation and Recreation Project properties between State Bridge and Dotsero, leveraging additional investments from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and Great Outdoors Colorado River Corridor Initiative developed to provide close-to-home recreation opportunities for Coloradans to get outdoors and experience the state’s waterways.Dotsero serves as the gateway to the very place we have been encouraged to explore, enjoy and invest in by a litany of local, state and federal programs for years now.
Mental, physical and spiritual health benefits notwithstanding, those investments have paid dividends economically, as evidenced by the recently published Business for Water Stewardship report noting that some 6.7 million people participate in water-related recreation annually in Colorado, supporting more than 131,000 direct and indirect jobs, many of them right here in Eagle County. Overall, the annual value in water-related recreation in Colorado is nearly $18 billion, according the the analysis by Southwick Associates. That translates to $6.3 billion in household income, $2.7 billion in tax revenue and roughly $10 billion to the state’s gross domestic product.
So maybe we should pause to consider the scenic natural beauty, wildlife and fishing opportunities offered by conserving the character of the upper Colorado River surrounding Dotsero after all. Isn’t that what the collective will of the Eagle County citizenry has asked of our local representatives since 2002? And it seems to be paying off.
The “corporate infrastructure” of the local outdoor recreation industry is our public lands and waters. And as both a benefactor and beneficiary of that industry (not to mention taxpayer) here in Eagle County since 1992, I can assure you that a pit mine is the last thing anyone wants to look at while floating, fishing hiking or biking along the otherwise spectacular Colorado River. Offering an exemption to the Dotsero Area Community Plan to create such an unwarranted eyesore would qualify as an unmitigated travesty.
Bearing that in mind, I urge the Eagle County Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners to follow the staff recommendation and deny both the exemption and special use permit applications for the Rincon Mine and help us conserve the upper Colorado River.
Scott Willoughby is a freelance writer and the former outdoors editor for the Denver Post who lives in Eagle. He works for Trout Unlimited and is the Angler Conservation Program’s coordinator for Colorado.
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