The Pikeview quarry, AKA the scar on the mountain, has been in more or less continuous operation since 1905. When it opened, it was miles away from the quiet residential areas of Colorado Springs, and virtually invisible from the city. Noise, dust, bare rocky terrain … so what? Quarries were then, as they are now, vital to local economies. Our forebears needed limestone and aggregate in the early 20th century, as do we in the early 21st.
Large-scale mining operations at Pikeview ended years ago, and owner-operator Castle Concrete sort of began the slow process of reclamation, as required by state law. Then a subsidiary of Chicago-based Continental Materials, the company tried to open a new aggregate quarry south of Colorado Springs at the historic Hitchrack Ranch.
It was a bitter and contentious project. Residents of the rural neighborhoods adjoining the ranch came together to oppose it, and persuaded the state Mined Land Reclamation Board to deny its operating permit. Undeterred, Continental Materials reapplied, and included some sweeteners. The company offered to donate Pikeview to a nonprofit entity and help fund its transformation into a world-class extreme mountain biking course.
In addition, Continental promised to close its concrete batch plant on North Nevada Avenue, freeing up the site for residential and retail redevelopment. It was an attractive package that was supported by a number of local elected officials.
But that support cut no ice with the MLRB, whose members once again nixed the project. Continental subsequently spun off its local operations (including Pikeview), selling them for a stated price of $27 million to Aggregate Industries, a subsidiary of Swiss-based LafargeHolcim.
Here’s the problem: Total cost of full reclamation (which must be completed within five years of the quarry’s closure) was estimated several years ago at more than $23 million. The owners have posted a multi-million dollar reclamation bond, supposedly guaranteeing that the site will be reclaimed — whatever that may mean.
Good luck. Although Continental and its successor have made some feeble gestures toward reclamation, not much has been done. That may be because state law doesn’t require that serious reclamation begin until mining has officially stopped, so all the owners have to do is mine a little aggregate and reclaim at a suitably glacial pace.
After all, no sane entity is going to pay out millions and get no return.
In 2013, Continental submitted a reclamation plan to the state with completion scheduled 2019-2021. The present owners are seeking to modify the plan and extend the time frame — and so it will go for the indefinite future.
Maybe it’s time for the state to scrap the present laws and start over. The Division of Reclamation and Mine Safety pretends to regulate, mine owners pretend to comply and elected officials pretend that all is well.
Let’s examine the present law’s underlying assumption, i.e., that’s it’s worth spending 15 or 20 million bucks to reclaim Pikeview. Look at it — it’s a barren, cliffy landscape that might as well be left alone, an historic monument to 120 years of industrial use.
Wouldn’t it make sense for the state to cut a deal with the owners for a few million and use the money for other projects along the mountain backdrop? If invested in fire mitigation or trail building, $4 million would create far more value for our community than quarry reclamation.
In fact, the reclamation process could be a multiyear disaster for the surrounding residential areas. According to the amended reclamation proposal, 117,000 tractor-trailer loads of fill material and another 5,600 tractor-trailer loads of topsoil will have to be transported to the quarry for stabilization and reclamation work. If the process takes 10 years, that would mean 245,200 trips coming and going. That translates to about 80 per day, assuming a five-day workweek.
Obviously, that’s never going to happen. Fixing the mess will require an entirely new regulatory structure, and that won’t be easy to accomplish. Still, if Gov. Jared Polis can sell it to the Legislature as a win-win for both business and the environment, change might be attainable.
So Sen. Pete Lee, Rep. Marc Snyder — why not pitch His Excellency on the deal? All he can do is say no…