Special to the Daily Record
Cañon City-based gravel mining company Fremont Paving and Redi-Mix has launched a lawsuit against Pueblo’s board of county commissioners after the board decided to hear an appeal to a recent decision to allow the company to operate a gravel mine in eastern Pueblo County.
Fremont Paving, which already operates one gravel mine in Pueblo, alleges the appeal was made by an unrelated private individual who didn’t have the standing to file the appeal.
Daniel Hobbs, an organic farmer who neighbors the proposed gravel mine, filed the appeal. He has been an active opponent of the gravel mine since it was proposed.
The suit also alleges the board, made up of commissioners Terry Hart, Sal Pace and Garrison Ortiz, did not hear the appeal in a timely manner, set forth by county procedures.
Pueblo County has canceled the appeal hearing scheduled for July 5.
“Because of the stay, the District Court will rule on the merits of Fremont Paving’s suit before the Board considers the Permit,” Pueblo County said in a statement. “If the Court denies its claims for relief, the stay will be lifted and the Board will reset a hearing to consider permit.”
“The County intends on vigorously defending the boards’ actions,” the release said.
The special use permit has been especially contentious in Pueblo County, with several concerns of the mine. While some worries — such as the number of trucks leaving the mine and haul routes — were addressed by Fremont Paving, others have remained.
Hobbs told the Denver Post in March he worried that the mine would “destroy prairie needed to sustain pollinators, disrupt production with dust from noisy trucks, and foul their 1874 Bessemer Ditch with sediment that clogs irrigation sprinklers.”
But the land, owned by the State Land Board, gave Fremont Paving the green light to mine on the property. Doing so would mean $1.8 million from the lease would help fund education during the next 15 years.
After obtaining a permit from the Mined Land Reclamation Board, Pueblo County was the last hurdle in finalizing the mine plans. Pueblo County disallowed the special use permit to Fremont Paving twice — 2001 and 2012.
Then Pueblo County argued the land was not compatible in the area thick with agricultural farms. But a state analysis determined the land has no significant ecological integrity. Once the mine is exhausted, Fremont Paving is required to remediate the land back to usable grazing land.
Some area farmers have publicly said they don’t see any threats from the mine to their farms. But opponents are quick to contend the farmers that approve of the mine might have received money from Fremont Paving owner John P. Ary and his company for using their land.
Earlier this month, the board of county commissioners decided unanimously to hear the appeal for the special use permit, originally granted by the Pueblo County planning commission. This came despite some concerns there was a potential conflict of interest.
Ary donated to two county commissioner candidates, one of them Commissioner Ortiz, in October. The $5,000 donation to Ortiz was the commissioner’s biggest contribution.
Ortiz, during the vote whether to hear the appeal, said his vote was not up for sale and would carefully consider his decision in the appeal.
Based on secretary of state searches, it doesn’t appear Ary or his companies have donated to any other candidates, even in Fremont County. But Pace and Hart, the other sitting county commissioners, said they had both received campaign contributions from both sides of this issue in the past.
When questioned about the donations during a news briefing this spring, Ary replied that he was donating to get the right people in office. The two candidates were running against each other.
“Now all of a sudden they are no longer the best people (for office)?” asked Wendi Kerns, a resident living in eastern Pueblo County, who has been a vocal opponent and organizer against the gravel mine.
The suit, given the campaign contributions, doesn’t make sense, she said.
Fremont Paving could not be reached for comment.
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