A plan to dynamite up to 18 acres of National Forest Service land to fix an existing scar on Colorado Springs mountain backdrop has received preliminary support from City Council and county lawmakers.
But at least one critic believes that the proposal -- which would allow Castle Concrete to enlarge their highly-visible limestone quarry by as much as 50 percent -- is plain bizarre. The site, called Pikeview Quarry, cuts into the mountain west of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.
'This is a scam,' said Rick Laurenzi, a Manitou Springs resident and longtime opponent of Castle Concrete's quarry operations. 'This is a corporation with a terrible social record in our community.'
Castle officials acknowledge their spotty environmental record, but blame it on previous owners who were responsible for the three most visible mountain scars caused by mining in the area. Castle Concrete is currently owned by a Chicago-based corporation.
'I hate our history; that's why we're changing,' said Greg Francis, the reclamation manager for Castle Concrete. 'Our company did not start the mine. We inherited a lot of their problems.'
The company claims that the vertical cuts in the mountain from their limestone mining operation have made it difficult to restore the mountain to a more natural look.
Their plan would involve dynamiting between 12 and 18 acres of mountainous Forest Service land behind the quarry to "sculpt" the land into a gentler slope, enabling the concrete company to lay top soil and plant new trees.
The area is currently occupied by conifer trees that are approximately 100 years old. If the proposal is approved, those trees would be cleared and new trees likely planted, said Tim Grantham, a forester with the U.S. Forest Service.
The Colorado Mountain Reclamation Foundation, a volunteer group that works with Castle Concrete, has used paint to try to camouflage the scar, but the limestone behind it keeps peeling off, taking the paint with it, said Francis.
Francis said the idea of using dynamite sounds worse than it is. "We use blasting in mining all the time. We're trying to make it aesthetically more pleasing."
If the Forest Service approves the deal, then the company will be able to further mine the quarry to remove the remaining limestone. Francis said the company would likely make a profit, but declined to be more specific.
"It's not going to put a lot of money in Castle Concrete's pocket," he said. "We're not going to do this for the economics of it, We're doing it to fix the mountain."
Representatives from Castle Concrete and the reclamation foundation unveiled their plans during a Jan. 5 joint meeting between the Colorado Springs City Council and the Board of El Paso County Commissioners. Though neither lawmaking body has jurisdiction, they were supportive of the proposal, and proponents hope to obtain resolutions of support from them to help secure a nod of approval from the Forest Service.
But Laurenzi criticized the company for not providing specific answers to basic questions, including what the area would look like after blasting, how much it would cost and who exactly would pay for it.
"This has the potential to be a great plan, but the City Council and the county commissioners seem bent to give their approval without knowing any of the details," Laurenzi said. "It's the equivalent of giving a contractor who wants to do an addition on your house a blank check."
By law, Castle Concrete is responsible for basic reclamation. However, Francis said the company does not have to pay for "enhanced reclamation," which includes planting wildflowers and additional trees beyond what's legally required.
The company has said they want to get started on the project by the end of the year. They would mine the enlarged quarry for seven years and, in a decade, would begin reclamation efforts, Grantham said.
Grantham said that company officials have promised to meet with neighborhood groups as well and that public opinion would weigh "heavily" in the agency's decision. A formal plan is expected to be submitted to the Forest Service within a couple of months.
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