Coal-fired power plant, sewage treatment facility, concrete batch plant, rock quarry, gravel pit, slaughterhouse, airport, wind turbine farm or oil field — which one do you want as your next-door neighbor?
Most of us would say “none of the above.” Yet all are essential to our advanced industrial society, and some of us get stuck living close to one or more noxious land uses.
As the Industrial Revolution gathered steam in the early 19th century, rich folk self-segregated in protected residential neighborhoods. Wealthy London merchants kept their families in country estates, far from the city’s choking smog. In America, the super rich spent summers in Newport, R.I., while the merely well-off went to the Poconos, golfed at the Greenbrier or wintered in Florida.
Colorado Springs was conceived and created as an exclusive enclave where affluent folks could build beautiful homes, breathe clean air and live off the earnings of factories and businesses in the polluted cities they had fled. Large-scale commercial and industrial uses were banned from Gen. Palmer’s little town.
Want rail yards, steel mills, manufacturers and breweries? Move to Pueblo!
Yet industry crept closer. Neighboring Colorado City had glass factories, ironworks and small manufacturers. When gold was discovered in Cripple Creek, three Colorado City mills crushed and refined ore from the mines, pouring smoke into the pristine skies.
Euclidean zoning (so-named after a court case in Euclid, Ohio, in 1926 that established its constitutionality) separates land uses into residential, commercial and industrial zones. Such zoning protected (and still protects) homeowners in Briargate, Rockrimmon, Peregrine and dozens of other suburban enclaves from unregulated commercial development.
But while most industrial/commercial uses can be located on minimally disruptive sites, that’s not true of mineral extraction. If you want to mine aggregate, you’d better go where the gravel is. Owners of subsurface rights to oil and gas, water, gold, gravel or any valuable mineral have the right to develop them. Moreover, such rights can be severed from surface ownership.
In Colorado Springs, the city owns the subsurface water rights to all land within the city, so forget about drilling an irrigation well in your backyard.
Plans to build massive gravel quarries in Pueblo and near Colorado Springs have encountered bitter resistance from neighboring landowners.
Thwarted once by the state Mined Land Reclamation Board, Transit Mix Concrete plans to refile its application to open a multi-hundred-acre aggregate mine in a pristine canyon west of Colorado Highway 115, part of the historic Hitch Rack Ranch. Neighboring residents are less than delighted.
“The natural beauty of our area is why so many people and businesses choose to live and move here,” said Kristan Rigdon, a member of the homeowners coalition that successfully opposed the previous plan. “What will be the price of continuing to destroy the Front Range just so [Transit Mix] can get a quarry in this location? Especially when you consider that the existing quarries have enough surplus aggregate to supply the needs of El Paso County for years to come.”
A similar battle is underway in Pueblo, where rural farmers and ranchers oppose plans by Fremont Paving and Redi-Mix for a 1,500-acre “mineral and natural resource extraction and mining operation” in Pueblo County. Approved earlier this month on a 5-1 vote by the Pueblo County Planning Commission, the decision has been appealed to the Pueblo County commissioners.
Opponents have characterized the proposed use as incompatible with the surrounding agricultural community, while supporters point out that gravel pits have existed in the area for more than 100 years. Two previous attempts to open gravel pits at the same location were rejected by the planning commission.
Velma Ricks, an owner of the closely adjacent Huerfano Lake Ranch, opposes the quarry, citing the impact of increased haul truck traffic on local public schools. Like the Hitch Rack, Ricks’ ranch symbolizes a Colorado landscape that has almost vanished from the Front Range. It’s a 1,865-acre working cattle ranch that includes a 360-acre lake. Located 19 miles from downtown Pueblo, the ranch has resident herds of antelope, white-tailed deer and mule deer, as well as waterfowl.
If approved, both quarries will operate for 50 years, forever altering surrounding environments. It seems likely that the eight elected officials who serve as Pueblo and El Paso county commissioners will determine their fate.
Will they choose to preserve a resplendent past, or provide for tomorrow’s growth?
Regrettably, they may not be able to do both.