SILVERTHORNE — Peak Materials has submitted a permit application to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety to create a gravel mine at the 75-acre Hillyard property north of Silverthorne.
The project has been met with adamant resistance from Friends of the Lower Blue River and Lower Blue Residents United. The mining company announced the submission of the permit application Aug. 6, nearly two years after the community open house where the project was last discussed publicly.
In addition to the state permit, Peak Materials needs two permits from Summit County: one to mine or extract materials on the property as well as one to import the materials to the company’s Maryland Creek Ranch facility, about 11 miles south in Silverthorne. Summit County Senior Planner Dan Osborn said applications for the local conditional use permits have not been submitted.
On Aug. 3, the company sent out a letter to residents in the area letting them know that the company is seeking permits for the operation. The letter, signed by Russell Larsen of Peak Materials, named the proposed mine the Peak Ranch Resource Project.
Peak Materials is proposing to mine the gravel deposit on the property, which was purchased by the company from Julie Hillyard for $4 million in October 2018. The property is located along the Blue River west of Colorado Highway 9 about a mile south of Ute Pass Road by the confluence with Slate Creek. Pending permit approval, the material will be loaded into trucks and taken to the Maryland Creek Ranch facility, where the gravel will be processed into construction products like sand, gravel, asphalt and concrete.
Joanna Hopkins, a representative for Peak Materials, said the project is necessary in order to continue to meet local construction demands and noted that the company has operated in Summit County for 55 years. She said the company had to find a new materials reserve, ideally in close proximity to the existing Maryland Creek Ranch facility.
Following the completion of the mining operation, the company plans to convert the property to open space featuring a 26-acre groundwater lake, according to the letter. Topsoil stripped during mining will be used to create screening berms, stored in a temporary stockpile area and used as part of the reclamation process. The company estimates the lifespan of the mine, including reclamation, at 10-15 years.
Larsen wrote that the company plans to host another public meeting to discuss the project and answer questions, noting that the meeting likely will be virtual. Hopkins said the meeting would be hosted prior to submission of permit applications to Summit County and that residents will be notified of the meeting through various methods such as newspaper advertisements and direct mail.
In response to the letter, Lower Blue Residents United sent out an email to about 600 people on the group’s mailing list that led with, “The fight begins! Stop the pit!” During a Zoom call with Friends of the Lower Blue River Executive Director Jonathan Knopf and Lower Blue Residents United Founder John Fielder, the two said they don’t see a solution that would address their concerns while keeping the mining plan intact.
One of the concerns of the groups is the truck traffic the project would create. Fielder estimated 115 trucks would move from the site to the Maryland Creek Ranch facility and then return to the site, totaling an estimated 230 truck trips per day. The metric is based on figures provided at the 2018 open house.
“No amount of mitigation can make 230 trucks going up and down Highway 9 any less audible and any less polluting to the air,” Fielder said.
When asked about the traffic metric, Hopkins said the company is working to strike a balance between meeting the construction needs of the county and minimizing impacts to the community.
Fielder outlined other concerns with the project, such as the well water of nearby homeowners, which he said could be impacted due to wet mining. He also said impacts to wildlife are unpredictable and noted the local effort to reestablish the gold medal status of the Blue River.
“The last thing we need is warm and sultified water in that pit draining through the groundwater into the river at a time when we’re trying to make the quality of the river better for bigger fish on a sustainable basis,” Fielder said.
Hopkins said the area has been thoroughly studied and reported on in the state application, which will be reviewed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She noted that parks and wildlife has suggested limited hours of operation to avoid conflicts with wildlife as well as other mitigation efforts.
Knopf, who lives uphill from the proposed mine, also had water concerns. He said the void created by the mine could cause water from wells like his family’s to flow downhill due to gravity, draining the well. He also was concerned that if the company digs too deep in the mining operation process, water from the Blue River could flow into the property.
Knopf said further exacerbating the local water supply through mining operations would worsen drought conditions. He also pointed out that the Blue River joins the Colorado River system, supplying water for millions of people.
“It’s not just us,” Knopf said. “It’s going to ripple downstream, and that’s a concern of ours especially in the environment we’re in now where our temperatures are rising, the state has already designated us as in a drought situation, and now we’re going to throw this into it to further exacerbate the problem environmentally.”
Lower Blue Residents United has legal strategist Harris Sherman on board as well as expert witnesses in relevant areas such as water, wildlife and fish to speak against the project during the permit review processes.
Addressing the more than 1 1/2-year lag between the 2018 open house and movement on the project now, Hopkins explained that the company was considering its options.
“Peak did take the last year and a half to analyze other sites to see if there is a better alternative that will both meet the needs of the business as well as lessen the impact to the community,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins explained that 10 criteria were used to measure alternative sites but that the company determined the original Hillyard site was preferred. This was determined partially because the Hillyard site is the closest to the Maryland Creek Ranch facility, minimizing the distance traveled between the two places. She said other sites would require travel on Interstate 70 or through towns like Silverthorne.
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