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Digging In

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

But the residents worry that without independent wells supplying their water, their property values will decrease. They don't like the idea of an unsightly cistern in their neighborhood and the trucks that would have to drive up their quiet mountain road to deliver water. "What they should be doing is moving their boundaries or agreeing not to dig as deep. Instead, they're planning to fix the problem on our property," Allen says. "With this trust fund, they're just throwing money at the problem when they should find a way to fix it."

"If that mine existed already and then we moved up there, we'd have to deal with it. Maybe then a trust fund would be an appropriate way to handle it, but we live in a residential neighborhood, and according to state law, when someone requests a zoning change, it has to be compatible with existing zoning," adds Wood.

Another concern that has resulted from the quarry proposal is its impact on hikers and bikers at Eldorado Canyon State Park, the two main parts of which are located in Boulder County, northeast and northwest of the mining site. Even more worrisome to park users is the proximity of two other parcels of the state park. A couple of years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management transferred two isolated pieces of property totaling approximately 280 acres to the state; the two parcels run up against the proposed quarry area.

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.

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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

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Members of Citizens for Eldorado Canyon, a group that formed to oppose the quarry, say that if trails are ever built on those lands, park users will be disturbed by the mining activity next door. But Marcia Simmons, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, says the land is intended to serve as a buffer zone between the mine and neighboring Boulder County open space. "There is the potential for the land to become part of a long-distance trail system someday, but that is just a possibility," Simmons says.

Eric Johnson, a founding member of the citizen group -- which has a 400-person mailing list that includes Flagstaff Mountain residents who claim they'll be able to see the quarry from their homes -- says people in Boulder County haven't been treated as stakeholders in the quarry discussions. "We have stressed repeatedly that air quality in our area needs to be tested now as a benchmark so that we know how it will change once the mine is built. But [Asphalt Paving] has neglected to do air testing in Boulder County. They also haven't addressed the noise and pollution impacts to the state park," Johnson says. "People have accused us of being NIMBYs [an acronym for Not in My Backyard], but I don't care. The state park is everyone's backyard, and we believe that that part of the park will be completely ruined for any future public use."

The more troubling issue for neighbors is the possibility that gravel trucks could someday rumble by their homes. Asphalt Paving's application has been dubbed the "Rail-Line Quarry" because the company says it intends to use nearby rail lines owned by Union Pacific; if gravel can be hauled away by train, gravel trucks won't have to drive through residential streets and along the two-lane highway that winds through the canyon.

"By pitching this on the basis of rail haul, it makes the quarry a lot more attractive to the commissioners. I think they're just using the railroad to get their foot in the door and that sometime down the road they'll use trucks. No one wants trucks hauling gravel in Coal Creek Canyon," Allen says, adding that residents have yet to see any evidence that Asphalt Paving has permission to use the tracks.

The reason they haven't seen it is because Keller hasn't shown it to them -- yet.

In fact, Union Pacific gave Keller preliminary approval last year, but he hasn't shared it with the public because he didn't want to jeopardize negotiations with the rail company.

But now he says he wants to allay residents' fears about gravel trucks once and for all. The June 2, 1998, letter reads, in part: "The Union Pacific agrees with your initial concept subject to engineering operating approvals. Once you have received your permits and are ready to proceed with your project, please submit your engineered track plans."

Even if the county agrees to rezone his property, Keller estimates it will be six to ten years before he'll be able to begin blasting. He must still get a building permit from Jefferson County, as well as permits from the state health department, the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

However, Keller's plans will backfire if Union Pacific decides not to grant Asphalt Paving the use of its tracks. Keller says he's taken care of residents' concerns about truck hauling with a clause in his official development plan -- a document to which he will be legally forced to adhere -- that states that if he is unable to haul gravel by train, the land will not be developed. In fact, the county won't even issue his building permit until he submits proof of a contract with Union Pacific.

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