On Jan. 30, on The Gazette’s front page, Eileen Welsome attempted to report on the Lafarge mining application, which was heard by the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) on Jan. 28. She was absent from the hearing, and the first sentence of her article, more accurately described as an editorial, was completely false and designed to influence the reader from the beginning.
Here is the first sentence: “A pristine stretch of land along Fountain Creek that is home to blue herons and bald eagles will one day become a gravel pit.” In fact, the piece of land on which this application was approved includes absolutely none of the riparian habitat along the creek in which these birds nest. The land has been zoned industrial since the 1960s and is currently being irrigated for agricultural use. The land is privately owned, stretches along I-25 and the railroad tracks and is rich in the type of sand and gravel used in concrete and asphalt production.
Lafarge has been mining this type of material in a nearby location in Fountain for many years. That location has nearly been depleted, and so five years ago, Lafarge began the process of due diligence and applications to federal, state and local agencies to relocate the site.
In Ms. Welsome’s second sentence, she states that the BoCC overturned decisions by two other government entities. The entities to which she refers are the Planning Commission and the newly formed, advisory Fountain Creek Watershed District. What she does not clarify is that at the time the application was heard by these entities, a batch plant request was included as a second application. This batch plant, where they actually mix concrete and asphalt, led to significant and legitimate water contamination concerns. Early in our hearing, Lafarge withdrew their application for the batch plant.
This changed the dynamic and removed nearly all of the water contamination concerns as well as some of the traffic and site specific issues.
Here are some of the facts without the emotion of bald eagles and blue herons being misleadingly inserted into the article.
• There will be no batch plant on the project site. Among other things, this means that no foreign chemicals will be used at this site.
• Only gravel and sand will be mined.
• No more than 50 acres will be opened at a time before reclamation processes must be implemented.
• The state of Colorado reclamation permit requires Lafarge to post a $3 million dollar reclamation bond. If they do not perform the specified reclamation, the money will be used to perform the work.
• Water quality tests will be performed on a quarterly basis, ensuring that existing selenium will not be released at higher levels into the creek. Any such increase would result in permit enforced mitigation.
• Mining will not occur in the flood plain as originally requested by Lafarge. Such proximity to the creek would have increased risk of sediment pollution, possible increase in the release of existing selenium and possible structural deficits. With the denial of this floodplain mining, these issues are no longer a threat and the project is farther from the creek itself.
• CDOT will not allow a pebble to be moved until Lafarge has completed necessary traffic improvements throughout the interchange.
• Most of all of the property on the east side of the creek in this entire area is conservation easement land, fully protected and preserved.
• Lafarge employs approximately 200 people, not including subcontractors. With their current mining project in Fountain reaching the end of its viability, operations in El Paso County would cease without a new mining location on which usable aggregate actually exists.
Adding to the misleading and incorrect information in The Gazette piece is the fact that the map printed with this article showed the wrong boundaries for the project.
The map showed the project land directly abutting the creek. This project will not be permitted to abut the creek or intrude on the riparian areas.
County spokesman Dave Rose very correctly stated that this was a difficult decision. Having read a mountain of back-up material prior to the hearing, I began the day openly awaiting both sides and not knowing how I would ultimately vote. Hours of presentations left me considering all facts presented. I must make such decisions based upon the science and serious protection of private property rights, including surrounding property.
I must not allow emotion and unsubstantiated environmental and animal concerns to muddy the facts with which we were presented.
The bottom line was that Lafarge had science on their side and the opposition failed to demonstrate a scientific basis for their opposition to such an extent that we would deny this business and the rights of this property owner to proceed.
The mining industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries which exists today, and in addition to the county’s unprecedented number of imposed conditions, state and federal agencies have their own massive lists of requirements.
Leadership at The Gazette has stated that they want this paper to be one of integrity. It is my constant hope that The Gazette will leave the editorializing to the editorial page and keep the facts on the front page.
Amy Lathen represents District 2 on the El Paso Board of County Commissioners. Contact Lathen at 520-6412 or â€¨firstname.lastname@example.org.