March 25--Opposition is mobilizing to plans Martin Marietta Materials is expected to bring forward soon for gravel mining operations on 610 acres east of Lyons, which some fear could transform the bucolic character of the area and even cause health hazards to cyclists, runners and those living nearby.
Under the umbrella of a nonprofit group called Save Our St. Vrain Valley (SOSvv), residents and business owners are calling on county officials to step up the scrutiny it applies to reviewing the special use permit Martin Marietta Materials holds for its property -- a review for which the company has actually not yet applied, but is soon expected to.
Michael Robson, who lives at 61st Street and Hygiene Road, rides his bicycle about 100 miles a week, and said that while cyclists are worried about issues such as airborne crystalline silicates, the concern in the rural area between Hygiene and Lyons is not limited to just that highly visible community of recreationalists.
"It's not only cyclists, but it's our little valley," said Robson, who moved into his home less than two years ago. "It's one of the last unmolested pastoral valleys on the entire Front Range of the Denver-Boulder area."
"A lot of different people go out there and do stuff -- running, cycling, birders, people walking their dog. It is quite the hive of activity. For anybody doing anything outside of any kind of athletic nature, the airborne dust could be an issue -- not to mention, it's going to be an eyesore."
Amanda Dumenigo runs a business from her 5-acre property in the 11700 block of North 59th Street, Horsense, which offers equine-facilitated experiential learning and coaching, as well as other "nature connect" programs, to people of all ages. She is chairperson of SOSvv, and wants county commissioners to heed the group's voice in determining how Martin Marietta Materials proceeds -- if at all.
Dumenigo was blunt in assessing the potential impact of gravel mining that she believes could potentially affect land within view of her home.
"It would destroy the area," she declared.
Dumenigo and her allies in challenging Martin Marietta's plans experienced a rude awakening when the Daily Camera and Times-Call in January reported that Boulder County Commissioners approved the company's plans for constructing a processing plant and other structures on its property southwest of Colo. 66 and North 61st Street.
"We were, 'What?'" Dumenigo said, describing surrounding property owners' stunned reactions.
When she bought her property seven years ago, Dumenigo had no inkling of the industrial activity that could be in the offing nearby.
Land and science have both seen change
The company's plans for 5891 Hygiene Road, which were approved under a special use permit issued in 1998 to a previous owner of the mining rights, include a 10,000-gallon fuel storage tank, a 35-foot-tall processing plant with lights mounted on top of it and multiple additional structures to support the nearby mining operation.
A central talking point for opponents is that so much has changed since the original permit was issued in 1998; even the physical contours of the St. Vrain River were affected by the September 2013 flood.
"I would like the county to recognize that there has been significant changes in information and technology since 1998," Dumenigo said. "To put 1998 in perspective, Google became formally incorporated in '97, and became a company in '98. Beyond that, natural disasters have transformed the area. The population in Longmont has grown 40 percent over what it was. The county needs to reassess this."
Google was invoked in another context by her ex-husband, Longmont resident Philip Armour, who is also a cyclist and maintains a keen interest in how Martin Marietta proceeds.
"One of the reasons why Google is rebuilding downtown Boulder is for the recreational opportunity offered by Boulder County," Armour said. "If there was a giant industrial operation in one of the gemstones of Boulder County, I think that wealthier, sporty population of Boulder County would lose their minds."
That concern is echoed by Amy Ruf and Greg Vann, owners of Hygiene's popular Purple Door Market, which derives a significant portion of its revenues from cyclists who "stop in for food and refreshments, sometimes more than once per day -- on their way out, and on their way back," they wrote in an email.
"Cyclists will likely consider other routes if road conditions, air quality, and heavy truck traffic become worse due to the mining activities and materials transport," they said.
"Many cycling events currently route past our business. If northern Boulder county roads become hazardous and undesirable, these events will choose other routes that bypass Hygiene, Lyons, and Boulder County altogether. We will definitely lose business from rerouting these events -- on event days and from training rides that occur every day throughout the year."
Julie Mikulas, a Martin Marietta land manager, said that the company will be taking steps to preserve the natural beauty that draws people there.
"Our final reclamation plan has wetland vegetation and ponds and other aspects that are around them now. That will be there, when the reclamation is done," she said. "We are limited to disturbing 35 acres at a time, which I think, with some of the operations going on around us, that is not the case. We will be reclaiming, as we go."
The Cemex cement plant, which is located just west of the western perimeter of Martin Marietta's permitted area, agreed in 2013 to a $1 million federal penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.
It is far from clear exactly what the company will be permitted to do, or when. Although Mikulas said it's a possibility that mining activities could begin before the end of the year, much remains to be done before that can be a reality.
An interim review of the special use permit before the Boulder County Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners will be necessary, and Martin Marietta has yet to request one.
"We do not have a date yet for the interim review," Mikulas said. "We are working right now on just getting our power in, and internet to the plant site area working," as well as working to obtain building permits for the structures approved by commissioners early this year. "It all kind of depends on the county's timelines."
Has permit lapsed?
Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case said that in the county's January approvals of the construction of buildings for processing and shipping, "Part of that was recognition that they still have to meet all the other conditions and commitments from the '98 approval, before they can move forward with the mining."
Case said that would include but not be limited to studies of wildlife issues, traffic conditions and whether there are "changed conditions out on the landscape" since the time of the 1998 permit approval.
Opponents of mining planned for the property cite a provision in the county's land use code, which states that if there is no activity related to the approved special use permit for five years, the approval lapses. They believe that the five-year window has lapsed since the permit was granted in 1998 to Western Mobile Boulder Inc., and then acquired by Martin Marietta in 2011.
Mikulas said they're wrong.
"There has been activity on the site every year, with getting portions of the property underneath this permit reclaimed and released from the permit," Mikulas said. "And ongoing, we have maintained the state mining permit, stormwater permits and the air permits. There has been activity going on. It might not have been every-year, on-the-ground physical activity, but there has been activity to keep the permits active."
Case is aware there's debate around the lapse/no-lapse question.
"We haven't made a determination to that effect, at this time," Case said. "Looking at some of mined land reclamation board documents, it appears they have been doing some reclamation work. We have asked for that information, to show that there hasn't been a lapse. And then we can make a determination as to whether it has lapsed."
From concerns about the potential health dangers of fugitive dust to potentially irreversible transformation of the valley's agrarian character, area residents are anxious about what lies on the near horizon.
"We're coming up against a real turning point for that whole valley," Armour said.
Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/chasbrennan
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