A Rough Road Ends in Jeffco

After eighteen months of fighting against a proposed gravel quarry in their neighborhood, Coal Creek Canyon homeowners finally blew a hole through Asphalt Paving Company's plans.

Their victory came November 9, on the sixth and final day of public hearings before the Jefferson County commissioners, who were considering whether to rezone part of the residential area to allow mining. One mountain resident, who raised a ruckus by yelling from the back of the hearing room, predicted that the commissioners would be committing political suicide if they approved the mining company's request. Indeed, the three commissioners would have alienated many Jefferson County voters if they hadn't voted against the rezoning; more than 100 people turned out for the final day of hearings to oppose the quarry, and several state legislators have spoken out against it as well. The three commissioners unanimously voted to kill the idea.

Residents of four subdivisions near the proposed mine, northwest of the intersection of highways 93 and 72, said that Asphalt Paving's groundwater, air pollution, noise and geologic-hazards studies did not convince them that the mine would have little impact on their homes. Boulder County residents also opposed the mine because of its proximity to Eldorado Canyon State Park and Boulder open space ("Digging In," October 7).

Homeowners worried that vibrations from blasting would induce rockfalls and that excavation of the mine would lower their well-water supply. Eileen Poeter, an engineer hired by the county to evaluate the impact on groundwater, said at the hearing that Asphalt Paving's studies proved inconclusive because the model its engineers had used was insufficient. "It's like taking your tire in to be changed at the mechanic's store, and for them not to measure the air pressure or balance the tire and then put it back on your car," she told the commissioners.

Although the county's planning and zoning staff recommended against Asphalt Paving's proposal based on the issue of noise alone, mountain residents had started to think the commissioners would be persuaded to approve the rezoning after staff members concluded that the separate issues of visual impact, air quality and the potential for decreased property values were not reasons to deny the rezoning.

Asphalt Paving president Jeff Keller and a slew of engineers defended the mining company's studies and assured the commissioners that the quarry would pose no harm to residents; he also said it would not hinder climbers' and hikers' enjoyment of the nearby state park. Throughout his testimony, Keller made thinly veiled threats to convert his property to dense residential development -- a prospect, he warned the commissioners, that would have a much greater impact on neighboring residents than a quarry. Keller was proposing to mine only 163 acres of his 1,061-acre property and to conserve the rest as open space; current zoning allows development of one residential unit per five acres.

In the end, however, the commissioners were swayed by the testimony of residents and their own experts. And they weren't convinced that there was enough need in Colorado for additional gravel to warrant approval. In 1983, Jefferson County voted against a similar rezoning request by the property's former owner -- a different mining company. That attempt was denied because the effects on air quality, water quantity and noise were unknown. Keller has not said whether he'll appeal the decision or reapply for the zoning change later.

"It's clear that the applicant and his hired team of consultants think all impacts are known," said Chris Wood, a spokesperson for the Coal Creek Canyon Homeowner Associations. "But they've not been able to convince anyone else."

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon

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