On Wednesday, the Mined Land Reclamation Board listened to numerous presentations regarding the Peak Ranch Resource Project, a proposed 75-acre gravel mine north of Silverthorne.
Peak Materials submitted a permit application for the project to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety last summer. Materials from the gravel mine would be processed at the company’s Maryland Creek Ranch facility, where it would be turned into construction products like sand, gravel, asphalt and concrete.
During the public comment period of the permit application process, nearly 170 objections were received by the state mining division, meaning the decision on whether to grant the permit transferred from staff to the board.
The formal hearing began Wednesday, when the board heard from representatives associated with Peak Materials in addition to residents and experts who oppose the project.
The hearing was a long one. The state mining division had just over two hours to present, Peak Materials had nearly four hours, and objectors, including members of groups like Lower Blue Residents United and Friends of the Lower Blue, will have more than 7 1/2 hours. On Wednesday, objectors had just over an hour to get started on their presentation, which will resume Thursday.
Once the arguments conclude that day, the board is expected to deliberate and make a decision on whether to grant Peak Materials a permit. The permit is one of three Peak Materials would need to move forward with the project. If the state permit is granted, Peak Materials would also need two from Summit County: one to mine or extract materials on the property as well as one to import the materials to the company’s Maryland Creek Ranch facility, about 11 miles south in Silverthorne.
During the hearing, 10 witnesses spoke on behalf of Peak Materials, while nearly 20 will speak against the project.
Steve Mulliken, attorney with Mulliken Weiner Berg & Jolivet, introduced the objectors’ arguments, one of which involved the environmental impacts the project would impose on the area.
“Our position is that this mine will threaten both wildlife and this very precious aquatic resource of the Lower Blue River in this area,” he said. “It’ll also destroy, not conserve, the more valuable resource which is the Lower Blue River Valley.”
Mulliken listed many reasons for denying the permit application. During his presentation, Mulliken said the mining plan is “deficient” in that it lacks setbacks, has poorly designed berms, fails to include dust and noise barriers, and fails to avoid impacts to surrounding wildlife.
He also said Peak’s reclamation plan “identifies an end use that is not achievable,” among other things.
During his presentation, Mulliken called the Blue River Valley a “unique natural resource itself” and noted that there are two protected natural areas, Eagles Nest Wilderness and the Williams Fork Mountains, bordering the property.
John Fielder, executive director of the Lower Blue Residents United, echoed that during his own presentation. Fielder lives roughly a mile from the proposed project and chose the area specifically to retire in for its splendor.
During his presentation, Fielder said one of his main concerns was the truck traffic that would come with the proposed project.
“Those trucks and the air pollution associated with it and the safety issues are going to be a detriment to what is, as I just said, the most beautiful, the best protected mountain valley in all of Colorado,” Fielder said.
Fielder said it’s not just himself and other residents that would be impacted by the project but visitors, too. Peak Materials estimated that about 230 truck trips would be made per day to the site.
“As much as Peak (Materials) has a good plan to put up berms, there is no way you’re going to be able to put a cloak on 230 trucks a day going back and forth on the highway,” Fielder said. “It’s going to destroy the view. You’ve got thousands of people every weekend in the summer who are backpacking into and day hiking into the Williams Fork Mountains. You’ve got tens of thousands on (Colorado) Highway 9 going to Steamboat Springs for a summer weekend. The number of people that are going to be adversely impacted by 230 trucks a day, that impact is incalculable.”
During its own presentations, Peak Materials said wildlife activity in the area primarily happens from dusk to dawn and that to mitigate risks to the environment and for safety reasons, it would limit its truck traffic hours to the daytime.
Another concern with the project is Summit County’s permit for Peak Materials’ Maryland Creek facility. Currently, the permit states that “no raw materials may be imported onto the site, with the exception of materials necessary for the production of concrete and asphalt.”
“That limitation was imposed by the county to make certain that this site was reclaimed within a reasonable amount of time and did not go on indefinitely, which is now what Peak is trying to do by asking to import material from Peak Ranch to Maryland Creek,” Mulliken said.
“This application that you’re considering proposes a mining operation that would directly violate the existing Summit County (conditional-use permit), and the board perhaps can, but certainly should not, approve this because of that restriction,” he continued.
In a letter from the state mining division to Peak Materials in October, the division stated that Peak Materials would need to submit and approve its permit for the Maryland Creek facility “prior to importation of any off-site materials to that location.” Peak Materials already responded and said it would pursue a technical revision.
Deliberations will continue Thursday, when objectors will have more time to voice their concerns before the board makes a decision on whether to grant Peak Materials’ permit application.
Until then, Fielder noted the significance of the date and hinted to the board to make a decision in his favor.
“Tomorrow is the 52nd celebration of Earth Day, and you know what you need to do,” he said.