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A sign posted on 40th Lane near where the gravel mine would operate. Photo by Kara Mason

Pueblo County Commissioners grant appeal hearing for proposed St. Charles Mesa gravel mine

Pueblo County Commissioners decided unanimously Wednesday morning to hear an appeal from a group opposing a gravel mine in Eastern Pueblo County.

The appeal comes after the Pueblo County Planning and Development board approved the special use permit for Fremont Paving to operate a gravel mine on the St. Charles Mesa, near Avondale in April.

Now, commissioners will have the final say in the matter. Opponents of the mine, which include neighbors to where the mine would operate and some area ranchers, say stirring up dust could be harmful to crops, especially as Pueblo County is attempting to brand itself as having a higher quality pepper than New Mexico prides itself on having.

Some chile farmers in Eastern Pueblo County have publicly said the proposed gravel mine wouldn’t impact their crops one way or another.

Pueblo farmer Daniel Hobbs, who will neighbor the pit is the applicant on the appeal.

Other opponents say the number of trucks another gravel pit in the area would send by schools is a safety concern. Fremont Paving already operates one gravel mine on 36th Lane.

The proposed pit would be on 40th Lane. During the planning and development hearings, the plan was reworked so that all trucks would exit both pits from the 36th Lane location. Essentially, Fremont Paving will build a private route from the 40th Lane mine over to the 36th Lane mine, so no additional routes will be used.

During prior hearings, Fremont Paving agreed to only send out 70 trucks from the pit each day. But opponents of the mine argue there are few resources to enforce that rule.

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County commissioners agreed that hearing the case would rest their concerns about aspects of the case such as agricultural preservation and county infrastructure needs.

County attorney Greg Styduhar and commissioner Garrison Ortiz addressed the concern that Ortiz received his biggest campaign contribution in 2016 from John P. Ary, owner of Fremont Paving. Ortiz and his Republican opponent each received $5,000 from Ary.

Some felt Ortiz should recuse himself from the decision.

“I want to be clear that when I say my vote has not and will never be for sale,” said Ortiz during the meeting.

Commissioners Terry Hart and Sal Pace both said they, at some point, have received campaign contributions from both sides of this issue. Specifically, Colorado Secretary of State records show Ary only donating to a handful of candidates or races. Records do not indicate that Ary, under his own name or companies associated with his name, has donated to either Hart of Pace.

The date and time of the appeal hearing is yet to be determined.

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