By Cindi Allmendinger
I am Cindi Allmendinger, a high school math teacher with a family ranch 10 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. My family wants to put a small fraction of the ranch to work as a granite quarry, which would yield millions in royalties for public schools, ensure low-cost aggregate and concrete for roads and houses and accelerate the reclamation of the scar on the mountain. But a few wealthy neighbors are trying to stop us.
After mom died in 2009, my brother and I became responsible for Hitch Rack Ranch, where I lived during high school. For me and my kids, the ranch is more than an inheritance. This is my family's home.
The month before mom died, I remarried and started the move to my husband's home in Los Alamos, N.M. The plan has always been to help him raise his two kids and then return to Hitch Rack. His youngest, Sophia, graduates this year, so we have been making plans to move back.
At one point, my brother and I listed the ranch for sale. He had no desire to run the ranch, and I had no way to buy him out. It is providential no one submitted a competitive offer during the year it was on the market. The kids and I wanted to keep the family home.
After the listing expired, I got a call from Jerry Schnabel, the president of Transit Mix, as he sat at my front gate. He asked whether I'd be willing to lease part of the property as a granite quarry. I was very interested because this would allow the kids and me to craft an agreement with my brother so we could continue to ranch and he could move on with his plans.
I became even more strongly in favor after learning that, because the state of Colorado reserved mineral rights on the property in 1909, the project would contribute more than $20 million to Colorado public schools. As a teacher, I find that benefit especially attractive.
Ironically, while opponents call the company "greedy" and "selfish," Transit Mix is one of the few characters in this story that has treated me fairly. The Nature Conservancy, which has assets nearby, now speaks as if Hitch Rack must be protected from a quarry at all costs; but when Hitch Rack was on the market, they never offered to buy it. It wants to control my family's property, but without the inconvenience of paying for it. So who is greedy and selfish here?
If preserving the land is their genuine concern, the Nature Conservancy and the other groups with property interests near Hitch Rack should support the quarry. Thayer Tutt, the vice chairman of El Pomar, said in a recent Gazette article, "We just want people to be aware of the potential impacts on this 1,500-acre ranch and the fact that there is an alternative to a quarry, which is a large open space tract with public-private access." Despite Thayer Tutt's plans for our property, Hitch Rack is my family's home. It doesn't belong to him; it doesn't belong to El Pomar; and it doesn't belong to the Nature Conservancy. In reality, if we can't make the quarry work, we will have to develop housing or put the property to some other beneficial use. A quarry will preserve the area's natural state better than any of these alternatives, because it will occupy less than one-tenth of the ranch's 1,432 acres and only for 40 years.
The quarry - hidden behind ridges, nearly invisible from the highway and 10 miles from city limits - will be a vast improvement over the scar of the Pikeview Quarry and accelerate its reclamation. At the same time, a quarry at Hitch Rack will be close enough to the city to ensure a longterm supply of the low-cost aggregate and concrete needed for construction. Given Colorado's transportation problems, the last thing we need is to inflate the cost of roads. For all these reasons, a quarry is the best option not only for my family but for the city.
It would be bad enough if a few wealthy neighbors were interfering with my family's property rights and nothing more. In this case, they are also obstructing a slew of public benefits. If they win, the community as a whole loses. Please don't let them get away with it.
Cindi Allmendinger teaches high school math in Los Alamos, N.M. She looks forward to moving home to Hitch Rack Ranch soon.