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Transit Mix submits new application to state to mine contested El Paso County quarry

October 5, 2017 Updated: October 6, 2017 at 4:18 pm
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The view from U.S. Highway 115 shows the hill, behind the sign, where the Hitch Rack Ranch rock quarry would be built behind. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

A Colorado Springs-based concrete company again is seeking permission to mine a rugged patch of land on the Hitch Rack Ranch property in southwestern El Paso County.

Transit Mix Concrete submitted a second permit application to the state's Mined Land Reclamation Board on Thursday, nearly a year after the board denied its first request, sounding the bell for another round in what proved a heated clash with residents worried the project could jeopardize their groundwater supply and area wildlife.

The new application proposes some major changes to Transit Mix's original plan, including reducing the size of the quarry from 400 acres to fewer than 200 acres. While the original quarry parameters would have included land north and south of Little Turkey Creek Road off Colorado 115, Transit Mix now plans to mine only south of the road. The company also has slashed the expected lifetime of the quarry from 55 years to 30 years.

Kristan Rigdon, an organizer with a group of residents who oppose the quarry, said the project's opponents aren't backing down.

"There's too much at stake for us," Rigdon said. "The issues are still there. They haven't changed."

She said she couldn't comment on the details of the new application because the group had not yet reviewed the document.

Last October, the Mined Land Reclamation board voted 3-2 to deny Transit Mix's first application. The board later cited concerns that the company did not prove it had legal rights to use a necessary tract of private land at the site; the quarry could disturb the delicate network of underground cracks and fissures that holds the area's water supply; and it could imperil a valuable wildlife corridor, including habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl.

"We feel like we've addressed the deficiencies they pointed out in the first vote," said Transit Mix President Jerry Schnabel.

Company spokesman Daniel Cole said Transit Mix handled many of the issues residents raised by proposing a smaller quarry in the second application. Hundreds of acres north of Little Turkey Creek Road would remain a wildlife corridor, and the quarry boundaries would provide for more distance between the quarry and the nearest residential groundwater well, Cole said. The company would no longer need right of entry to the private easement that was in question because the tract isn't in the revised project site. Transit Mix would also build a private road for concrete-hauling trucks traveling to and from Colorado 115, so the project wouldn't bring more traffic to Little Turkey Creek Road; the road still would have to be temporarily closed during blasts.

Transit Mix's decision to reapply comes with more promises this time - what the company calls "a 4-for-1 deal."

If the proposed quarry opens, Transit pledged to end operations and accelerate reclamation efforts at the Pikeview Quarry, a prominent eyesore in northwest Colorado Springs, 10 to 20 years ahead of schedule. The company also said it would phase out mining and speed reclamation at its Black Canyon Quarry southwest of Colorado Springs' Cedar Heights neighborhood and shut down its batch plants on North Nevada Avenue and Costilla Street, freeing about 13 acres for redevelopment and cutting truck traffic in the downtown and University Village Colorado areas.

The company is exploring how the roughly 200-acre Pikeview and 180-acre Black Canyon lands might be repurposed for public use, Cole said. One option could be selling the Pikeview site to the city to use as an open space and mountain bike course.

Six Colorado Springs City Council members - Tom Strand, Merv Bennett, Andy Pico, Don Knight, David Gieslinger and President Pro-Tem Jill Gaebler - have said they support Transit Mix's plan, the company said in a Thursday news release.

"Transit Mix batch plants are no longer a good fit for our downtown or North Nevada, which are among our most dense and growing neighborhoods," Gaebler said in a statement. "This plan will create new possibilities for these areas and the Pikeview area, where our view corridor and recreational opportunities will be significantly enhanced."

In a legal complaint filed in January, the company asked a judge to review the Mined Land Reclamation Board's decision. The petition for judicial review, which named 90 people and organizations who opposed the project during the public hearing process as "defendants," was seen by objecting residents as an attempt to strong-arm the project's critics into silence. Transit Mix's attorneys have since agreed to drop a provision of the complaint that might have resulted in a judge ordering the company's opponents to pay its legal expenses.

The company has not withdrawn the request for judicial review, but Shnabel said he would prefer the board's approval of the second application to a judge's decision to strike down the board's first decision.

"We want this permit, and we want to be neighbors with the residents out there for 30 years and have a good relationship," he said.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has 10 days to determine if Transit Mix's application is complete, according to agency spokesman Todd Hartman. Once it's filed, a 48-day public comment period will begin, followed by a roughly three-month period for the division to review the application. Applications typically reach the Mined Land Reclamation Board for a vote within about four months of filing, Hartman said.

If the state grants Transit Mix a permit, the company still will have to get approval from county commissioners.

The Highway 115 Citizen's Advisory Committee, which organized last year in opposition to the quarry, continues to meet regularly, said resident Rigdon. The advisory committee held a Casino Night fundraiser last month in anticipation of the company's second application. Some of the money from the event is likely to help pay for expert testimony during the upcoming public hearing process, Rigdon said.

"We will approach it thoughtfully and methodically like we did before," she said. "We successfully opposed it with that approach last time, so we'll be doing it the same way this time with just a little bit more experience under our belts."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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