Access and Road Closing
Little Turkey Creek Road is the only access road for the owners of 36 properties in the Eagles Nest Association. Eagles Nest owners, families and guests will be forced to drive right past the quarry processing plant and pit area as they proceed to and from their homes and properties. The road will be closed during blasting operations three times a week during the life of the quarry. In the event of a demolition misfire or damage to the road from quarry operations, the road may be closed for extended periods of time. During closure, emergency responders will be unable to safely reach properties located west of the quarry.
In 1968, an El Paso County Court Decree granted homeowners adjacent to and west of Hitch Rack Ranch easement through the ranch. These property owners maintain Little Turkey Creek Rd. and closure of the road will be in violation of Colorado law because it violates the 1968 Court Decree, damages the easement and obstructs emergency access.
Wells are the only source of water for residents in the Little Turkey Canyon area and a water source for the Red Rock Valley Water District, which serves about 90 residences. Transit Mix’s plan compromises Little Turkey Creek’s surface water and presents an egregiously high risk for damage to area resident’s wells. Transit Mix does not prove that that it can prevent or even minimize this damage and once this damage occurs, it is permanent and irreversible.
The area’s residential wells are in a fragile network of granite fractures which move and hold rain and snow melt. It is a complex, unknowable and deep underground system and no one understands its structure or workings completely. Transit Mix claims that mining on the south side of the creek will not impact the wells to the east, west and north, but offers a weak case based upon a simplistic model which uses only part of the available geologic and water data. Our analysis indicates that due to the interconnected nature of the area’s geology, the removal of one large section of earth, like the Transit Mix quarry, will likely disrupt the direction, volumes and timing of the area’s above ground and underground flows. These disruptions would affect Little Turkey Creek and the ground water.
A case in point is the construction of the NORAD complex on Cheyenne Mountain, which is much smaller than the proposed quarry, and is located in the same rock formation to the north. The blasting and tunneling for construction caused the surface water and wells in the surrounding area to quickly dry up. Once this occurred, it proved to be permanent. The owners of the JL Ranch sued the US Government, ceased ranching and relocated. It happened once and it can happen again.
Aggregate reserves in the area are strong, so there is no need to endanger Little Turkey Creek or the area’s ground water with the proposed quarry.
A private property lessee should not be allowed to damage or destroy a vital component that every property owner in the area depends upon.
Many science-based organizations have recognized the environmental significance of the Little Turkey Creek and the riparian corridor it supports. It is rare because it sets at the junction of four major ecosystems and connects the short grass prairie of Fort Carson (and beyond) to the east with the BLM’s high altitude Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area to the west. It is irreplaceable.
The Nature Conservancy identified the area as “one of the last high-quality examples of the southern Front Range foothills ecosystem.” The Conservancy owns or controls 1,553 acres in the immediate vicinity of the quarry, it understands the ecosystem and it’s letter opposing the quarry states:
- Little Turkey Creek serves as an important stream corridor for the migration and movement area for a wide range of animal species such as mountain lions, black bear, mule deer, and elk. The mining plan does not provide an adequate buffer to protect the use of intermittent stream corridors by these sensitive species.
- This location provides a high-quality foothills plant community that (is) disappearing
- The area’s well-developed pinion and juniper woodlands are home to over 600 species of plants and 100 species of birds.
- The mine activity impacts such as dust, noise and contamination of the creek will directly impact the wildlife and plant communities as they are all interconnected.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife designated the area as a major big game migration corridor
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has mapped this site as Critical Habitat for the Mexican Spotted Owl, a federal and state listed threatened species.
Trout Unlimited wrote a letter opposing the quarry stating:
- The application fails to mention that trout or any other forms of aquatic wildlife exist and offers no protection for the cold waters of Little Turkey Creek. The application fails to adequately address the surface water and its quality. When it does discuss ground water, the proposed solution for the ground water entering the mine area is to simply dump it back into the stream. No consideration is provided for the water quality, changes in PH, temperature, chemistry or sediment.
The Audubon Society letter of opposition identifies the threat to the riparian habitat:
- Mining runoff into Little Turkey Creek could create serious issues for wildlife as riparian areas continue to decline in the west. According to Robert H. Wayland III of the EPA, ‘riparian areas comprise less than one percent of the land area of most western States, yet up to 80 percent of all wildlife species in this region of the country are dependent upon riparian areas for at least part of their life cycles’.
The Colorado Natural Heritage Foundation identified it as a “B2 site-a site of very high conservation significance”
El Paso County’s Southwestern/Highway 115 Comprehensive Plan states that “The specific area of Aiken’s Canyon is identified is a unique and significant biological resource of state-wide significance that should continue to be preserved.”
Once this special and threatened ecosystem is destroyed, it is gone forever.
The Hitch Rack Ranch Quarry will create yet another massive, highly visible mining scar in El Paso County. At some point, our leaders need to recognize that our surrounding natural environment is one of our region’s greatest assets which differentiates us from any other in the country.
Transit Mix and the Gazette Editorial Board repeatedly have claimed that the Hitch Rack Ranch Quarry’s deep scar will be hidden from view. Per our highly detailed and accurate visual analyses, our community can now see that the quarry and its haul road will be clearly visible from many angles and from as far away as the airport and Security. Transit Mix and the Gazette are absolutely and purposefully wrong in their claim. and the community needs to call them both out on it.
Jim Gidwitz is Transit Mix’s longtime CEO and majority owner. On March 29, 1991, when discussing reclamation of the three scars on the City’s north end, he stated to the world through the Gazette:
“When reclamation is completed, no one will be able to see the quarries from anywhere”
Are we ready to believe him again?
Our natural environment and beauty are Colorado Springs and El Paso County’s strongest selling points when people and businesses consider locating here. Few places can match us and we need to protect these assets which set us apart from other regions.
We all wish we did not have to look at our existing three scars and we need to recognize that new scars are unnecessary and are actually an embarrassment and very real cost to our entire community. When we create a new, highly visible fourth scar, we are telling the world we put little value on our beautiful view shed and special natural surroundings.
Are we a scarring, open pit mining community or one that is that is proud of it’s beauty and outdoor possibilities?
The quarry will be huge and significantly bigger that the Pikeview Quarry, which faces I-25 from Rockrimmon.
- Its footprint will be 236 acres and the visible area of the Pikeview Quarry is 100 acres.
- Its rear, vertical highwall will be 620 feet high, which is over 300 feet taller than the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Colorado Springs. For comparison, the Pikeview east facing highwall is 550 feet tall.
Open pit, large, scarring quarries are how we did business in the early 1900’s, when no one cared how things looked. Now, over 100 years later, we care. Why would we use the same technique, which creates the same irreparable results?
We don’t need the additional aggregate permit. There is no gravel emergency. We already have BILLIONS of tons of aggregate already under permit in the immediate area. Why would we allow any company, never mind a Chicago based one with a horrible track record, to create ruinous, permanent, and unnecessary scars on our landscape?
Normally, quarries are located far from residential areas and people decide to build or purchase homes that encroach upon a quarry, not the other way around. There is a significant difference in the two scenarios. In this case, Transit Mix wants to drop its quarry between existing neighborhoods.
There are already three quarries, with enormous reserves of aggregate, in operation along a five mile stretch of Highway 115 immediately to the south of the proposed quarry. With the addition of the Hitch Rack Ranch quarry, the area would have four quarries within a 9-mile stretch of road.
Stretches of HWY 115 on either side of the quarry access point have been identified as the most hazardous in the area and noted as having “severe crash frequency.” Operating six days a week, the fully loaded trucks making a left turn onto Highway 115 will pose a serious safety hazard to all motorists.
The quarry will operate six days per week, from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. Several months out of the year trucks will be entering and exiting the highway when it’s dark, adding to the safety risk.
When fully operational, they will be mining 1.5 to 2.0 million tons of aggregate per year. That’s more than 600 truck trips per day (300+ coming into the quarry and 300+ leaving the quarry), for more than 300 days per year, on Highway 115.
Transit Mix is saying that without the HRR Quarry there will be a shortage of aggregate in El Paso County and supplies will need to be trucked in from outside the county, resulting in increased costs for end users. This claim is patently untrue and a scare tactic to create a need for the quarry — but the need doesn’t exist.
There are currently more than two BILLION tons of aggregate reserves in the region — a supply that will last for hundreds of years and keep costs reasonable for businesses that purchase aggregate, concrete or asphalt. Yes, Transit Mix has compromised most of the reserves it owns by causing landslides and unstable slopes, so its supplies are running low. But the many other active quarries serving the El Paso County market have large reserves and are operating well below capacity.
There are currently three quarries within a five-mile stretch of Highway 115 south of Colorado Springs and these quarries also contain a significant portion of the our region’s massive aggregate reserves. In addition, other well established local companies are already transporting easily mined aggregate from Pueblo and Fremont counties at very competitive prices, which are some of the lowest in the country.
Growth and construction in El Paso County are not at risk and there is no aggregate emergency. The reality is that we are awash in aggregate which has eroded off Pikes Peak for millions of years and is available almost anywhere.
One of the issues raised by Transit Mix’s president, Jerry Schnabel, is that of property rights. More specifically, he stated that the owners of Hitch Rack Ranch should have the right do what they want with their property.
Mr. Schnabel seems to believe in a pure Libertarian world of property rights. He feels entitled to proceed regardless of the regulatory protections for neighborhood property owners, environmental constraints, damage to others’ property through endangerment of water resources, or constitutional land use restrictions such as El Paso County Land Use Code.
As the laws clearly state, property rights are not absolute. They are subject to regulatory approval by various levels of government, in this case the State of Colorado and El Paso County. Until approvals are received, there are no rights to mine aggregate. The approval process appropriately invites and encourages public comment.
El Paso County Regulations
The proposal to operate a quarry in this area does not comply with El Paso County’s Land Development Code, Southwestern Area Comprehensive Plan, the Master Plan for Mineral Extraction and the Parks Master Plan.
The code and plans were developed to serve as reference documents and policies to govern and guide future land use decisions. These plans contain specific policy guidance in regards to transportation, conservation, the identification and protection of open space, visual impacts and resource extraction, among other issues.
The 4-for-1 Fallacy
One of the newer issues is what Transit Mix is calling their “4-for-1” offer. They made this offer to the city to garner their support, even though the HRR Quarry will be located in El Paso County and the Colorado Springs City Council has no say in whether or not the quarry is approved.
The four “offers,” in exchange for quarry approval, include
- End quarry operations and accelerate reclamation at Pikeview Quarry.
- Phase out mining and speed reclamation at its Black Canyon Quarry southwest of the Cedar Heights neighborhood.
- Shut down its batch plant on North Nevada Avenue.
- Shut down its batch plant on Costilla Street.
Unfortunately, these four issues have nothing to do with the HRR Quarry.
Per Transit Mix’s permit Amendment 3 for the Pikeview Quarry, the “the only objectives considered in the development of this plan are to create a safe, stable slope and fulfill the mine’s reclamation obligation.” Also in Amendment 3, Transit Mix committed to completing reclamation in six to 10 years (somewhere between 2019 and 2022), yet little to nothing has happened. So offering to start that process is disingenuous and an attempt to mislead elected officials and community.
In Transit Mix’s 2015 Annual Report it states, “the Black Canyon Quarry ceased mining in the second quarter of 2013 as the deposit is fully depleted.” So they are offering to “end quarry operations and accelerate reclamation,” in a mine which has not been mined since 2013.
Additionally, they have not started reclamation operations, even though the mine is fully depleted and no longer operational. So, as with the Pikeview Quarry, their offer of closure and reclamation is disingenuous at best and could more likely be classified as deceptive.
If they are offering to close the batch plants on North Nevada Avenue and Costilla Street, they clearly aren’t needed because they have nothing do with the HRR Quarry. And if they aren’t needed, and all operations can be consolidated at their property on South Academy Blvd., then they should do it regardless.
Holding it as ransom for the HRR Quarry just further shows what poor corporate citizens they are.