Unchecked development threatens agriculture | TheFencePost.com

Unchecked development threatens agriculture

By Ginny (Roy) Harrington, Montrose, Colo.

I am writing in opposition to the application to Montrose County, SU22-013, proposed gravel mining pit filed by Michael Ripp. Original public hearing was held Dec. 15, 2022 with strong opposition to the proposal, filling the room to overflowing. The public hearing was continued to the next Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 26, 6 p.m. at the Montrose County Event Center, 1036 N 7th St., Mtg. Rm #4, Montrose, CO 81401.

Our family (Inman family — paternal grandmother’s side) has owned a small family farm property on 5875 Road since the early 1930s. It is directly west across 5875 road from the property proposed for the gravel mining pit operation. It is family owned and my mother and brother reside there. On this property my brother raises some hay and pasture for his horses for his ranch work for a local farmer feeding, developing and ranching operation. My brother also grazes and feeds some of his own cattle for a small local beef business that he has built. My brother, my dad before he passed in 2017, my great uncle before him, and great grandfather and families have worked and lived on this land. It has become increasingly difficult for agriculture producers to continue raising food with all the challenges they face, not the least of which is the development of agricultural lands.

The ‘farm’ along with the help of our granny, raised many of my cousins, my siblings and I to have an appreciation and concern for agriculture, wildlife, water and heritage. There were many ‘hands-on’ opportunities to learn the value of growing our own food. There have been cattle, horses, orchards and gardens on this property over the years. There are many small mammals, quail, hawks and eagles, songbirds, coyotes, and deer who frequent the farm. An occasional bear and mountain lion passes through.

I am a fifth generation Colorado native, fourth generation to Montrose and Ouray counties and I wouldn’t count as all “progress,” much of what has transpired since the mid to late 90s or so in these communities. The last 20 years have even been crazier as we have seen agriculture disappear at a rapidly increasing pace to unchecked development. It is not beneficial to the community as a whole to continue developing agricultural land as has been occurring. Much of the western slope is witnessing agricultural lands and agriculture production disappearing at an alarming rate.

Along with the loss of agriculture is the loss of the many ecosystem services that agriculture lands provide including local food production; economic contributions and employment; sense of community, cultural and historic landscapes; wildlife habitat, wildlife water sources, wildlife corridors/connectivity, riparian areas — trees, watered areas, raptor habitat; water filtration, runoff control, aquifer recharge; wildfire mitigation; weed control; carbon sequestration; open space, scenic viewsheds; hunting and fishing access, agritourism; and much more. These tangibles are at risk when development is not checked or managed to keep agricultural lands viable and intact.

The property for the proposed gravel pit is zoned agriculture. I am concerned about the unfettered development of agriculture for residential, commercial and industrial use. I am worried folks will regret it when we cannot provide the local agricultural products, food that we currently do. I feel that the gravel pit is just the first step for development of the 200 or so acres of land that was purchased by a known developer in a foreclosure sale this past spring. Currently some of the land is leased to agricultural producers. Talking with neighbors in the area, they do not want to see this land removed from agriculture.

American Farmland Trust’s Farms Under Threat research reported in a July 18, 2022 article stating, “If recent trends continue, 417,500 acres of Colorado’s farmland and ranchland will be paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that jeopardize agriculture by 2040. That represents an area more than four times larger than the city of Denver. In the worst-case scenario of runaway sprawl, Colorado could lose as much as 525,300 acres of farmland. Fifty-three percent of the conversion will occur on Colorado’s best land.”

Save our agriculture heritage in Montrose County. I am not broad-scale against all development but believe there are better locations for development of any sort and that this proposal details. A gravel pit in this area just doesn’t fit. I am not against mining and industrial operations but believe location of such operations must be carefully evaluated to consider the negative impacts on neighbors and neighboring lands and not continue to take lands out of agriculture. My dad and my maternal grandpa both were hardrock miners in the Ouray, Silverton and Telluride areas. Dad mined on swing shift and farmed during the day for many years. Mining provided for our families, but this location near 5875 Road is not the place for a commercial gravel pit and especially a large-scale gravel mining pit as proposed at full build out.

The roads in this area — 58.75 Road and the other county roads around cannot handle any more traffic, especially large trucks. It is always a concern that the farming equipment and operators will be safe on the road without adding any more traffic. My family members and I have personally witnessed more than a few close calls on this rural road. There are many folks of all ages who walk and bike here as well. It is a narrow road and our family farmhouse sits very close to the road.

I am also concerned about the impact on the canal which provides our irrigation water. The continuing drought has impacted irrigation water for all in the valley without other impacts to the supply or quality of water. The ditch and canal already build up with silt, increasing the labor required to keep ditches flowing freely. Will the ditch carry pollutants to crops, livestock and people downstream from the gravel pit? What kid or older kid in my case can resist dipping their feet in an irrigation ditch on a hot summer day. There are also several natural springs just a draw west of the proposed gravel mining pit. There is a possibility of impacting the source of these underground springs with a gravel mining pit so close. That is a huge concern. A lot of tail/waste water from irrigation helps recharge the springs and could likely become polluted from the gravel pit runoff and/or contaminated irrigation waters. The springs are a water source for wildlife, livestock and crops. The more development in the area, the less irrigation water that will recharge the springs, impacting the availability of water for the aforementioned.

Also, of concern is air pollution. This is close to residential areas and farming properties. I speak from personal experience as a close family member previously worked at a gravel pit and experienced respiratory issues from the airborne particulates, and still suffers with issues some 25 years later. My mother and other seniors and families with young children, many who live nearby are at more risk to airborne particulates. However, it is a concern for all.

What is the intention of the gravel pit application — to provide for a future subdivision on this land after reclamation? The proposal is a 60-year proposal, to operate 12 hours a day, six days a week, disrupting and destroying this rural area. Enough with all the development. Keep Montrose County agriculture lands in agriculture. Do not develop everywhere, whether that development be residential, commercial or industrial.

I respectfully request that you deny the application SU22-013 for a gravel mining pit from applicant Michael Ripp. I also ask that in general and in the future, Montrose County starts to consider the value of agriculture to the community and truly evaluate what is the cost to the community of the run-away development. There are enough issues impacting agriculture without continuing to encroach upon and put development pressures on these historic and productive agricultural lands. Please don’t take the value of learning to grow our own food away from future generations or decrease the availability of local grown food. The decision of the Planning Committee and Montrose County commissioners impacts the future of agricultural producers to feed their families and yours.

Email your concernsto: trichmond@montrosecounty.net and reference application SU22-013, or, mail comments to: Montrose County Board of Commissioners, c/o Planning and Development Director, 63160 LaSalle Rd., Montrose, CO 81401.

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