Drinking water impacts cited by Mining and Land Board in denial of El Paso County gravel mine permit

Mexican Spotted Owl photo credit US National Park Service.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

The Mined Land Reclamation Board voted 3 to 2 to deny Transit Mix Concrete’s application for a permit for the proposed Hitch Rack Ranch quarry following more than 10 hours of testimony at a two-day hearing in Colorado Springs.

The decision is a major blow for the company and a victory for nearby residents and environmental groups, who have argued the proposed quarry off Colorado 115 could threaten the area’s groundwater and wildlife habitat, including that of the threatened Mexican spotted owl…

The state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety allows applicants to ask for reconsideration, and the courts may offer other avenues for the company.

Driven by concerns that mining could disrupt the fragile underground system of rock cracks that holds the area’s water supply, board members John Singletary, Jill Van Noord and Bob Randall voted to deny the application. During deliberations ahead of the vote, Randall said there were no guarantees that mining wouldn’t impact groundwater that supplies residents’ wells and those impacts could “be difficult to minimize.”

Karin Utterback-Normann and Forrest Luke voted to approve the application, saying that they believe Transit Mix met or exceeded state requirements related to assessing the quarry’s potential effects.

Lauren Duncan and Tom Brubaker recused themselves from the decision.

After the board’s vote, opponents shook hands and hugged one another…

Transit Mix initially applied for a permit from the state in 2016. The board rejected that by the same vote as it did the second, 3-2, citing some of the concerns raised by neighboring residents – the threat to water and wildlife habitat.

The state board also found that the company hadn’t proved it had the legal right to access Little Turkey Creek Road, which serves as the only access for a group of residents.

After the board denied its first application, Transit Mix filed a petition for reconsideration to the state Mining Division, arguing that opponents improperly presented new evidence at the application hearing.

The company later withdrew that petition and filed another, with the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs, asking a judge to review the board’s decision. The board, as well as more than 90 individuals and organizations who objected to the initial proposal, were named as defendants.

Quarry foes have called the lawsuit an attempt by Transit Mix to intimidate opponents and scare them into silence.

Earlier this month, Transit Mix attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Liz Titus, an attorney representing Transit Mix, testified that the company wanted to avoid the “procedural quagmire” that might occur if the board approved its second application, but the court invalidated the board’s denial of its first application.

Transit Mix submitted a second application to the state in the fall, reducing the size and life of the proposed quarry and moving the operation south of Little Turkey Creek Road.

More than 500 letters of objection and about 150 letters of support were filed with the state’s Mining Diviison, which recommended that the board approve the application.

Project opponents include the El Pomar Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, which manages the Aiken Canyon Preserve neighboring the quarry site. Both organizations have been deeded pieces of land along the quarry’s proposed boundaries that are destined to one day become preservation areas.

The company publicized new offers in exchange for approval of the quarry, winning endorsements from several Colorado Springs City Council members and state legislators. Transit Mix said it would close and reclaim the Pikeview Quarry, an unsightly scar on the foothills of northwest Colorado Springs, if it was able to open the new mine. The company also announced earlier this month that, if it got permission to mine the Hitch Rack Ranch, it would sell the Pikeview property to the city at a discounted rate so that a “world-class” mountain bike park could be built on the land.

When asked about the bike park proposal on Thursday, Cole said: “Pikeview has another 10 to 20 years of life left, and there’s no indication that Transit Mix would close it without another source of aggregate.”

Here’s a backgrounder from Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited (Michele White):

In early 2016, Transit Mix submitted an application with the Division of Mined Land Reclamation Board to develop a new quarry on the Hitch Rack Ranch. This historic ranch is known for 1,200-acres of prime mountain wilderness bordered by the Nature Conservancy’s Aiken Canyon and also bordered by the protected landscape of the Ingersoll Ranch. Therefore, the initial application faced opposition from the conservancy, from the trustees of the Ingersoll estate, and from homeowners along Highway 115.

The Colorado State Land Board owns the mineral rights beneath the Hitch Rack Ranch and had already issued a mineral lease to the Transit Mix Company for exploration purposes, which is their legal right. Subsequently, the Division of Mined Land Reclamation (DMLR) initially recommended that Transit Mix be automatically be granted approval for submitting a mining plan.

Opponents to this quarry were able to successfully present their argument (included impacts upon wildlife, threatened and endangered species, traffic on Highway 115, impacts on neighborhoods, road access, safety issues, and possible degradation of water quality and availability) and stop the quarry at that time. Therefore, a year ago, DMLR Board denied Tranist Mix permission to open the quarry.

Transit Mix requested the board to reconsider citing the objectors’ lack of evidence in support of their statements. The result is that the original application has been augmented to address the local concerns and the mine plan is currently under renewed judicial review.

Enter Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited

In September, 2017, Kris McCowen, Chairman of the Highway 115 Citizens Advisory Committee, contacted David Nickum, of Colorado Trout Unlimited, to enlist TU’s support in opposing the quarry. Nickum forwarded the documents for review to Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited.

NOTE: Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited is not against mining and Transit Mix has a history of successfully mining aggregate at other quarries within the bounds of specified regulations.

In November, 2017, PPTU President, Allyn Kratz, and V.P. of Government Affairs, Michele White, reviewed the documents in support of the mine plan and made a recommendation to the PPTU board that we, as a chapter, write a letter in opposition of the quarry based on its location and the adverse impact on trout population in Little Turkey Creek.

In December, 2017, PPTU wrote a letter to Ms. Amy Eschberger of Colorado Division of Mining and Safety stating that in our professional opinion, the site is too sensitive an area to operate a mine near trout habitat. The quarry operation and its footprint, as proposed in the application, is remiss in addressing the trout population. Another adverse discovery is the geologic hazards at the proposed site. Michele White is a certified professional geologist with an extensive background in evaluating mining proposals. Her evaluation of the drilled core logs and regional structures (faults) precludes positive support of the quarry at this location.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

There is now a major barrier to the proposed quarry at the old Hitch Rack Ranch on the southwest side of El Paso County. With a close vote three to two vote the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board (CMLRB) denied a mining permit for the quarry.

Transit Mix wants to close a current quarry on the northwest side of Colorado Springs and open a new one on the old ranch property. It is private property and owners want to go ahead with the deal. There are also some business and political leaders who believe this is good for the local economy.

Neighbors, environmentalist and other political leaders are strongly opposed. Their list of reasons include, the scar it would create on the mountainside, environmental impact on wildlife, traffic safety, and the potential threat to fragile ground water.

In the end, just one issue influenced the vote. The board said they had too many questions about the threat to ground water.

Hitch Rack Ranch quarry proposed site via Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited.

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