Salida gravel mine expansion clashes with mountain bikers and neighbors

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The Bureau of Land Management has released a draft of its environmental scan of a Salida gravel mine’s application to expand onto public land outside of Salida that includes a popular bicycle path.

The agency garnered more than 1,900 public comments on Hard Rock Paving & Redi-Mix Inc.’s proposal to expand its operations and realign a gravel mine access road that produces road material at approximately a mile south of Salida.

The expansion of the mine, which has been operating in Salida since at least the 1940s and is now surrounded by homes, highlights a growing divide in rural Colorado enclaves, where tourism, recreation, and vacation homes overshadow the traditional industries like mining and agriculture. Gravel mines are stuck in the middle of this divide, providing essential ingredients for roads and house building that support economies built around tourists, trails and access to public lands. But few gravel mine expansions in Colorado are welcome, and even fewer new gravel mines are accepted.

“Most of the existing gravel pits have been around for a long, long time and their neighbors all knew that when they bought their house and a lot of times they don’t even know you are there until you send them a letter and send them a letter. were saying that you are developing. said John Ary, who purchased the Hard Rock gravel operation in 1981 to make asphalt, concrete and a road base for roads.

Local mountain bikers protested the expansion alongside owners of Methodist Mountain who argued that expanding the mine to public land would increase truck traffic in their neighborhood and lower the value of their home. In February, Hard Rock realigned its expansion plan and promised to redesign and build a new portion of the 1.3-mile Solstice Trail, which local mountain bikers built in 2019 with $ 50,000 in funding from the State.

BLM’s 141-page draft environmental assessment released in late July details three alternatives to the expansion request, which is authorized as part of the agency’s mission to manage public lands for a variety of uses that include both mining and recreation. Hard Rock operates 37 acres, including 10 acres of BLM land. The mine has been in operation in the area since the 1950s and the proposed expansion would add 41 to 63 acres of BLM land to the mine footprint.

Alternative A, proposed by Hard Rock, would extend the mine life to 50 years and give the mine operator access to 6.4 million tonnes of aggregate for road construction. Hard Rock would hire a trail construction crew to relocate, redesign and rebuild the southern portion of the Solstice Trail as part of this alternative. The BLM noted that mountain bikers “highly value” the experience of descending the Solstice Trail and that changing that experience could “displace trail users.”

“Because the trail was designed and built using grants from partners, a complete reconstruction may give an unfavorable impression to future grant applications,” the BLM analysis reads.

The Salida Mountain Trails group, which spent four years working with the BLM to complete an EA to approve the Solstice Trail and two more years to design the trail and secure funding, said the lower portion of the trail is a rock wash.

“A circuitous trail will not retain its existing character and will be significantly compromised,” read a statement provided by Salida Mountain Trails to the Colorado Sun.

Alternative B adds 41 acres of BLM land to the mine and extends the mine life to 30 years with access to 4.1 million tonnes of aggregate. This would not require any disturbance to the bike path and the operator would construct a 30 foot earth buffer berm between the mining operations and the track.

The BLM noted that cutting Hard Rock’s operations by 20 years would reduce jobs and tax generation at the mine.

The Hard Rock Aggregate Mine near Salida would realign the popular Solstice Mountain Bike Trail if the BLM allows it to extend 63 acres. (Provided by BLM)

Salida Mountain Trails said he would support Alternative B if the buffer zone was increased to 200 feet to protect riders from noise and dust. Ary said the group “put their trail right next to our existing gravel pit.”

“I’m not sure why this is, but we made a commitment to hire a professional trail builder to move the trail east and beyond our limits which would be better for us and better for anyone who uses it. this trail, ”Ary said.

A third alternative would reject Hard Rock’s request to extend and realign its access road, which the BLM says “could potentially strain” Hard Rock’s ability to supply base materials and concrete. to local projects. Analysis indicates that the current pit has about six months of reserves depending on market demand. The agency noted that truck traffic to the mine would double if the expansion was refused, as Hard Rock would have to haul gravel and asphalt manufacturing materials from other aggregate mines to its operation in Salida.

“If road realignment on BLM land is not allowed, increased transport truck traffic could lead to safety concerns for truck drivers entering and exiting the mine site,” the analysis says. . “This would increase the likelihood of vehicle accidents near or around the mine site.”

The Methodist Mountain Homeowners Association opposes any expansion of the mine, noting that recreational use and neighborhood traffic on County Road 107 accessing the mine has increased and that an expansion would add more trucks to the route county.

“Today, traffic from owners, heavy trucks, hikers, bikers and visitors in general to Methodist Mountain has increased exponentially,” read a letter sent to BLM on July 21 from the president of Methodist Mountain HOA, Jerry Mallet. “Twenty trucks an hour or 75 a day is common and any expansion will dramatically increase that truck traffic on the narrow CR 107.”

Mike Smith, president of Salida Mountain Trails, said increasing the buffer zone to 200 feet in Alternative B would be a win for the trail, the cycling community and the mine operator. But unless that adjustment could be made, his group would join the owners in asking the BLM to reject any expansion of the gravel mine.

“There is also obviously a major concern for the full expansion of the surrounding community of Salida, as this area has transformed over the years,” Smith said. “Over the past 20 years, vacant lots have become residential subdivisions and neighboring public lands are managed for recreational purposes. They didn’t really give us a good alternative in A or B, so we have to say C. But B could be better.

Ary said he would prefer not to haul aggregate from remote gravel pits to make concrete and asphalt at his operation in Salida. The growth of recreation and tourism in Colorado has diversified economies, but it has also increased traffic on the state’s roads. Asking a road builder to import materials from afar “makes pollution, traffic, and whatever else you’re fighting to protect in the state worse,” Ary said.

“You don’t want to use gravel where it is, but you’re okay with going to another county to get it. Unless this county is your county, ”Ary said. “If you’re leaning towards the green side of that, the last thing you want to do is import gravel 150 miles away, if you look at the big picture.”

The BLM will be seeking public comments on its analysis of the mine’s expansion plan until August 14. Click here to view the plan and provide feedback.

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