New 54-acre gravel pit mine in Colorado’s Blue River Valley rejected by state board

Colorado’s mining board on Thursday voted unanimously against granting a required state permit for a proposed new gravel pit mine north of Silverthorne in the protected Blue River Valley.

State mining officials had recommended approval of this project to install a 54-acre mine along the river on a former ranch that includes wetlands. But the Mined Land Reclamation Board, after hearing testimony for and against the proposal over three days, voted 5-0 against allowing the mine.

Peak Materials had proposed to construct it within 300 feet of the river as a source of sand and gravel in Summit County to support construction of roads, buildings and luxury housing.

Over the past two decades, landowners in the area, with support from state, federal and local government agencies, have prioritized preservation along the Blue River, using conservation easements to protect private land. A 600-member group led by nature photographer John Fielder, along with Friends of the Lower Blue River, opposed the gravel mining project and hired experts who warned board members of potential harm to underground water flows, soil, domestic wells, elk migration and other impacts including noise, light and truck traffic.

Board members in their deliberations considered concerns that Peak’s plan to “reclaim” damaged terrain would have left large pools of water where algae could grow and that domestic water wells and water in the river could be impaired. Board member John Singletary motioned to deny the permit and received unanimous support.

Peak Materials officials are “evaluating their options,” company spokeswoman Joanna Hopkins said after the decision Thursday evening.

Those options include revising their plan and applying again for a state permit, appealing the board’s decision and looking for other locations to mine gravel.

“The Mined Land Reclamation Board made an important, courageous decision. They recognized that this valley is one of Colorado’s crown jewels. A large gravel mine has no place along the Blue River,” attorney Harris Sherman said, representing project opponents.

“You need to be very thoughtful where you propose a gravel-mining operation. There are certain areas where you’ll have far less impacts than in others.”

This was the second case in recent years where state mining division officials favored a controversial new gravel mining project and recommended approval before the appointed mining board members denied a permit.

In 2018, board members rejected a proposed quarry on wildlife habitat south of Colorado Springs, citing concerns about water quality and the context of their decision amid Colorado’s growth and development boom.

There are 1,163 gravel mines permitted around the state, providing about 54 million tons a year of sand and gravel used for asphalt, concrete, road base and building site fill material. The amount of rock blasted out of quarries and scraped out of river valleys around Colorado has been increasing as the population grows.

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