Gravel pits don’t fluster bald eagles, but new project may upset Rifle

Garfield County commissioners last week approved two gravel pits on land near the home of two bald eagles, although the commissioners’ discussion focused more on possibly ruffling the feathers of the city of Rifle.

A plan is in place for protecting what have proven to be two resilient birds, but concerns remain about the potential visual effect of pits operating at an entrance to Rifle, just east of its main Interstate 70 exit.

River’s Edge LLC and United Companies of Mesa County are involved with the project, which entails expansion of an existing state mining permit on a 93-acre property known as the Scott pit.

The project has been in the proposal stage for several years and initially encompassed 63 acres of the property. Now it’s down to 21 acres, and the anticipated life of the pits has been reduced from 10 years to less than six. After the gravel is excavated frm the pits, they will be allowed to flood and form lakes.

The nearby pair of bald eagles previously had nested at the LaFarge gravel pit property just to the east, but relocated after the cottonwood tree they had occupied fell into the river last June, killing two of the couple’s three eaglets.

The eagles have coped not only with that setback, but with life near gravel operations, I-70 traffic and railroad tracks. The Colorado Division of Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have recommended that no mining occur within a quarter mile of the nest, and that activities elsewhere within a half-mile be allowed only outside the eagles’ nesting and fledging period during the first half of each year. Under the project plan, wildlife experts will have the power to shut down any operations deemed a threat to the birds, project consultant Greg Lewicki said.

Although she ended up voting for the project, Commissioner Tresi Houpt remained concerned about the fact the city of Rifle opposed it.

Fellow Commissioner John Martin said efforts have been made to accommodate Rifle’s concerns but that the project is outside the city’s jurisdiction.

“I think we’ve made as much progress as we’re going to see on this,” he said.

In response to city concerns, permanent concrete and asphalt batch plants were removed from the project plan. Barring a subsequent waiver from the commissioners, temporary plants will be allowed to operate on the property only from July 15 to Nov. 15, to protect the eagles and further reduce the impact on the city.


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