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Clarifications on quarry issues

By: Thomas Fellows GUEST COLUMN
May 22, 2017 Updated: May 22, 2017 at 4:05 am
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Thomas Fellows

Guest opinion

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Scott Weiser ("Quarry battle reveals resident's hypocrisy") has a weak understanding of facts, property rights and hypocrisy.

Property rights are not absolute. They are subject to regulatory approval by various levels of government, in this case the state of Colorado and eventually El Paso County. Until approvals are received, there are no rights to mine gravel.

If a heavy industrial user wishes to locate in an established residential neighborhood, residents are entitled and even encouraged to express their concerns and objections. Southwest Highway 115 is such a residential neighborhood, albeit a rural residential neighborhood.

Weiser states that the State Land Board owns the site of the proposed quarry. This is incorrect; it owns the mineral estate.

Transit Mix filed its application to the CDRMS for the Hitch Rack Ranch Quarry in February of 2016. Over 100 "letters of objection" were submitted to CDRMS. A "citizen advisory committee" was formed to research and coordinate opposition to the quarry proposal.

Contrary to Weiser's assertion that opposition was based on "aesthetic concerns", the concerns were focused on the issues identified in the CDRMS "Rules."

The objector group includes numerous individuals skilled in research and professional expertise. The group engaged independent expert to evaluate geology and groundwater issues.

This is an expensive endeavor and fund raising became a major issue. The Transit Mix application was eventually considered during a scheduled two-day meeting in Colorado Springs on Oct. 26-27.

Citizen attendance was high. The meeting was tightly administered with specific time limitations for testimony. Transit Mix, as the applicant, was favored in the process since it could present direct testimony as well as rebuttal to objector testimony. The objectors presented their testimony directly and through several expert witnesses, notably relative to potential damage to groundwater sources, geology and wildlife. The wildlife testimony was not based on aesthetics as claimed by Weiser, but was presented by Dr. John Sanderson (director of science) of The Nature Conservancy - Colorado. Transit Mix had their expert witnesses.

At the end of two long days of testimony, the CDRMS board found that Transit Mix had not met its burden of proof.

Weiser parrots Transit Mix's assertion that it was somehow the victim of "abused discretion" when it simply failed to establish its obligatory burden of proof.

Transit Mix filed for board reconsideration and also filed a lawsuit for "Reconsideration" in District Court. Inexplicably, it withdrew its motion for "reconsideration" by the board but left intact its lawsuit. The lawsuit named all official objectors as defendants as required by rule. But it also asked for attorney fees and costs, for which there is no precedent.

The latter was widely condemned as a SLAPP.

This is not simply the opinion of objectors but also quoted from several notable independent attorneys in Colorado Springs and Denver. The request for fees and costs was mutually withdrawn only after objector attorneys filed counter-motions for sanctions against Transit Mix's attorneys. It was not a unilateral withdrawal.

Weiser claims that objectors are hypocritical for objecting to a heavy industrial use in an established rural residential neighborhood. He fails to recognize that rural-residential uses inherently incorporate rural values and include respect for and co-existence with wildlife and its habitat.

More to the point of hypocrisy is that the Hitch Rack Ranch Quarry application comes from a company that is wholly owned by Continental Materials, a Chicago based corporation that perpetuates the various scars clearly visible from its historic quarry operations west of Colorado Springs. Now they want to add another.

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Thomas Fellows is a resident of the Southwest Highway 115 area.

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