Will there be a major open-pit aggregate mine on the historic Hitch Rack Ranch, located west of Highway 115 a few miles south of Colorado Springs? That remains to be seen, as Transit Mix Concrete considers its options since withdrawing its request for reconsideration from the Mined Land Reclamation Board.
The company has the option to go ahead with its request for judicial review of the board’s decision, or it can simply file an entirely new mining plan and go through the process a second time. It could be messy, especially since the company’s pending request for judicial review listed the review board as a defendant even before the board had an opportunity to reconsider the original decision.
Although long established in Colorado Springs, Transit Mix is wholly owned by Continental Materials, a public company based in Chicago with 2015 annual revenue of $113 million.
In early 2016, Transit Mix submitted an application with the Mined Land Reclamation Board to develop a massive quarry on the Hitch Rack Ranch, a historic 1,200-acre site bordered by the Nature Conservancy’s Aiken Canyon and the protected landscape of the Ingersoll Ranch.
The application faced opposition from the conservancy, from the trustees of the Ingersoll estate, from homeowners and homeowners associations along Highway 115 and from other concerned parties. Neighbors formed The Highway 115 Citizens Advisory Committee, a grassroots group that had weekly meetings for six months, preparing for multiple hearings on the quarry proposal.
The opponents faced an uphill battle. The State Land Board, which owns the mineral rights beneath the Hitch Rack Ranch, already issued a mineral lease to the company, giving it the right to explore and develop construction materials beneath the property. Subsequently, the staff of the Division of Mined Reclamation recommended approval of the mining plan.
That approval had to be ratified by the Mined Land Reclamation Board, which considered the matter on Dec. 20.
“The opposing parties — most of whom were not represented by counsel -— worked together for months reviewing material submitted by [Transit Mix] and narrowing the scope of their concerns over the proposed mining operations,” wrote attorney Amanda Bradley in a recent court filing. “When the time came to present their side of the story to the board at the final hearing, the opponents were prepared with ample support for the positions they had asserted more than six months prior.”
“We weren’t intimidated. For us, it’s an existential issue.”
— Tom Fellows
Their arguments against the quarry included impacts upon wildlife (including threatened and endangered species), traffic concerns on Highway 115, impacts on settled nearby neighborhoods, road access and safety issues, and possible degradation of water quality and availability.
The board denied the application.
A few weeks later, Transit Mix asked the board to reconsider its decision. Firing back, the company ridiculed the board’s logic.
“The only ‘evidence’ offered by the objectors is that they simply do not want another quarry nearby, despite ample evidence in the application that the quarry will meet and exceed all statutory and regulatory requirements to minimize impact on the surrounding area,” according to a motion filed by Transit Mix’s representation, Hogan Lovells. “That is simply not the standard for the decision under the mineral resources statute which created the board as recognized by DRMS.
(At press time, neither the company nor its attorneys had responded to requests for comment from the Business Journal.)
Last week the company withdrew its motion for reconsideration, leaving the request for judicial review in place.
A neighborhood fights back
“When we got the notice for judicial review, and the request for attorney fees and costs, we were concerned,” said Tom Fellows, who heads the Highway 115 Citizens Advisory Committee. “But we weren’t intimidated. For us, it’s an existential issue.”
The present mining plan calls for quarry operations to continue for 50 years, eventually covering more than 400 acres. Neighbors believe that the mine, if eventually approved, will at best radically devalue their properties and at worst render them uninhabitable.
“The coolest thing that has come out of this whole process has been that we’ve become a neighborhood,” said Kristan Rigdon. “We really didn’t know each other that well before, but now we have fundraisers, chili cook-offs, summer barbecues — it’s been great getting to know everyone and come together. My husband is an electrician, and when there was a power outage he went through the neighborhood hooking up generators and helping out.”
“We’ll see what happens,” said Fellows. “We’re all in on this — we’re not going to back down.”