A state board is expected to decide Thursday whether a controversial quarry will be allowed in southeastern El Paso County.

Transit Mix Concrete needs the Mined Land Reclamation Board's approval to mine the Hitch Rack Ranch property.

The board will begin a two-day hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the project, which has drawn the ire of residents who say it could endanger their water supply and wildlife.

But it has been endorsed by some Colorado Springs City Council members and legislators, who want the mountain bike park that Transit Mix has promised as a quid-pro-quo for the new mine.

The hearing at the Hotel Elegante, 2886 S. Circle Drive in Colorado Springs, will unfold much like a trial, with presentations by both sides, followed by cross-examinations and rebuttles.

Among more than 50 speakers slated to address the board are residents, geologists, engineers and Transit Mix President Jerry Schnabel.

About 10 hours of testimony are scheduled, with eight hours the first day, and more than 40 exhibits entered into the record.

The board is expected to deliberate and vote by late Thursday, said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the state's Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

The same board in late 2016 denied the company's first request to mine the rugged land off Colorado 115 near Little Turkey Creek Road, citing concerns also expressed by project opponents.

Transit Mix submitted a second application of nearly 2,000 pages last fall, saying it resolved many concerns by reducing the site from 400 acres to about 240 acres, with only about 130 to be mined.

The new request calls for mining only south of Little Turkey Creek Road, rather than on both sides of it. The company also has slashed the quarry's expected lifetime from 55 to 30 years.

But oppponents are unappeased. They include Colorado Springs Council President Richard Skorman, the El Pomar Foundation and environmental groups such as the National Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy, which manages the Aiken Canyon Preserve beside the quarry site.

The state division's staff , who also will address the board, recommended approval of the application April 3.

Issues to be discussed include:

- Water. Residents say blasting could disturb the fragile underground network of granite fractures that stores the area's water supply. The company said a groundwater analysis found that the water won't be harmed, but opponents dispute those findings, saying the study could not holistically prove that blasting won't hurt the system that supplies their wells. A hydrogeologist for the company says the evaluation "conclusively shows that quarry operations will not materially affect anyone's water supply."

- Wildlife. Environmental groups say the quarry would destroy one of the few Front Range foothills ecosystems with habitat for the threatened Mexican Spotted Owl. An engineer for Transit Mix has said three years of surveys have shown none of the owls are on the site, and the reclamation plan will fully restore the wildlife habitat.

- Little Turkey Creek Road. Blasting will close an easement on Hitch Rack Ranch that is the only access to the Eagles Nest neighborhood. If an accident occurred, the road could be closed longer, residents say. Transit Mix has said it hasn't had a misfire since 2002, when Schnabel took over. The company would build a private road for concrete-hauling trucks heading to and from Colorado 115, so the project wouldn't add traffic to Little Turkey Creek Road.

The mine also would be hidden among the ridges of the rugged landscape, Transit Mix officials have insisted. Opponents have repeatedly refuted that claim.

Quarry opponents on Tuesday released a series of computer-generated images that show the mine would be visible for miles.

The digital renderings, commissioned from Denver-based GIS and modeling consultant Zach Perdue of ELEV8 Inc., show that the quarry could be seen from as far as Mesa Ridge High School in Widefield.

"The study looked at the elevations in the project area, along with sight lines, and it's irrefutable that the scar would be visible from several areas in the region," said Kristan Rigdon, vice chair of the Highway 115 Citizens Advisory Committee.

Transit Mix spokesman Daniel Cole questioned the data and methodology used, saying the three-dimensional model that the company commissioned shows the mine "will be largely hidden."

"The ridges shielding the site from public view are one of the attributes that makes the Hitch Rack Ranch especially suitable for the quarry," Cole said.

Since submitting its second application, Transit Mix also extended promises to garner support.

The company vows to end operations and accelerate reclamation at the Pikeview Quarry, a notorious eyesore in northwest Colorado Springs, 10 to 20 years ahead of schedule if it gets to mine Hitch Rack Ranch.

Transit Mix unveiled plans for a "world-class bike park" on the Pikeview site, saying the city could buy it at a discounted price if the company can mine the quarry.

Transit Mix also offered to 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.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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