Digging In

Gravel mining wasn't allowed near their homes in the 1980s. These Jeffco homeowners want to know what's different now.

On snowy days, it takes a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to Bob Allen's log house off the steep and winding Spruce Canyon Drive. But the same powder that's such a pain in the winter is welcome come spring when the snowmelt seeps through the soil and enters fractures in the wells that supply the 110 homes in Crescent Park.

But the people who live in this mountain subdivision are wondering if blasting for a proposed gravel mine a couple of thousand feet away could reduce the groundwater level and leave their wells dry. "Pulling all this earth out of the ground is like pulling a stopper out of a bathtub," says Crescent Park resident Chris Wood.

Wood, Allen and the members of four neighborhood groups have banded together to form the Coal Creek Canyon Homeowners Association; together they've been fighting Asphalt Paving Company since last May, when they found out about the potential mine. The Golden-based company owns 1,061 acres in the area north of Coal Creek Canyon and west of Highway 93, 163 acres of which is set aside for the quarry. The company promises to preserve the remaining 898 acres as open space during the sixty to seventy years the mine is active.

Asphalt jungle: Bob Allen and his neighbors don't want a quarry near Coal Creek Canyon.
Brett Amole
Asphalt jungle: Bob Allen and his neighbors don't want a quarry near Coal Creek Canyon.


Previous Westword articles

"Hell, No, They Won't Grow,"
July 8, 1999
Boulder property owners worry that the county's slow-growth policies have become no-growth policies.
By Julie Jargon

"A Slippery Slope,"
March 11, 1999
For mountain property owners in Boulder, the road home may be getting steeper.
By Julie Jargon

"A Growing Problem,"
June 11, 1998
Opponents of urban sprawl threaten to take the issue straight to the voters.
By Stuart Steers

"Spaced Out,"
September 11, 1997
Colorado residents take the initiative in slowing growth.
By Eric Dexheimer

The land is currently zoned as an agricultural area where homes and light commercial uses are allowed -- to begin mining gravel, Asphalt Paving Company must first convince Jefferson County's three commissioners to designate the area as a planned development/mining zone.

Nearby residents are convinced that the commissioners already have their minds made up and that the county is speeding the process along (the county could vote on the zoning-change request as soon as October 19, the date of the last public hearing). Some quarry opponents point to the fact that all three commissioners have accepted campaign contributions from developers and realtors as evidence that they are development-friendly.

Asphalt Paving donated $1,000 to Commissioner Michelle Lawrence's 1996 campaign. Lawrence was out of town and unavailable for comment, but Commissioner Rick Sheehan, who didn't receive anything from the company, says, "It's unfair to suggest that an elected official is biased by the receipt of a campaign contribution. The dollar amount is so small that I doubt anyone's ethics can be bought for that price. And it's interesting that they should say we're rushing this through, especially since we've asked the staff to do more analysis."

The third commissioner, Patricia Holloway, also received nothing from Asphalt Paving.

But residents say Asphalt Paving hasn't conducted adequate studies regarding the impact the quarry will have on noise, pollution, rock falls and wells. In 1981, Boulder-based Flatiron Sand and Gravel Company wanted to mine the same area; when their application made its way to the county commissioners in 1983, the zoning-change request was denied because of unanswered questions about the effects on air quality, water quantity and noise. When Asphalt Paving bought the land from Flatiron Sand and Gravel in 1991, it acquired the old studies. "They just took old reports from 1982 and put a new cover on them," says Allen, a hydraulic engineer. "There's more open space now and more houses. It's seventeen years later; they need to do all new studies."

In a February groundwater report commissioned by the county's planning and zoning department, engineer Eileen Poeter found that Asphalt Paving's hydrology study "does not provide the necessary analysis to evaluate the impact of the proposed quarry...The cost of potential failure must be balanced against the benefits of the mining activity. In this case, we can define failure as drawdown large enough that some residents lose their domestic water supply. The local residents bear the greatest risk of failure, while the applicant and county enjoy the greatest benefits. I recommend collection of field data followed by a robust geohydrologic study with rigorous calculation of confidence intervals."

"Whether the analysis is sufficient is one of the questions that needs to be answered," says Sheehan. "I'm not certain the reports are adequate; I need to look at them more. The [county] staff has recommended that we deny the application because noise issues haven't been adequately addressed. I haven't made a decision yet."

Jeff Keller, president of Asphalt Paving, stands behind the studies. Although he acknowledges that he used many of the studies from the 1980s, he's hired experts to confirm that they are still valid, and in many cases, he's had the studies completely redone. But he says the passage of time does not affect the validity of the groundwater study. He is so confident that the residents' wells won't dry up as a result of his quarry that he has agreed to put $1 million in a trust fund to pay for water service.

"In the unlikely event that they go dry, we'll put a cistern up there and haul water to it, or we'll pay to drill the wells deeper," he says, adding that a board of trustees made up of residents from the surrounding subdivisions and an Asphalt Paving representative will oversee the use of the money. He also has agreed to foot the cost of regularly monitoring residents' wells to make sure their water levels remain sufficient.

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