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Blowing Smoke

Teller County asphalt plant stirs up dust, renewed protests



A temporary asphalt plant is getting ready to crank up again near Woodland Park, over the protests of angry neighbors who claim its operators violated past promises to minimize noise and pollution.

The Teller County Planning Department, however, has rejected a complaint by the neighbors, saying the plant is complying with the terms of a conditional-use permit issued last spring.

The plant is operated by Kirkland Construction, based in Rye, south of Pueblo, and makes asphalt for a widening project on Highway 24, currently being expanded from two to four lanes between Woodland Park and Divide.

The portable plant operated for two weeks in May in an old gravel pit near the Woodland Park West subdivision, and it was scheduled to begin another two-week run this week. Its permit expires in November 2003.

As detailed in an April 18 Independent news story, the county approved the permit for the plant in March over the resistance of neighbors who formed a group called Teller County Citizens for Healthy Living. The group argued the plant would cause noise and pollution and said the county planner who reviewed the plant proposal had a possible conflict of interest because she had accepted a job with another company connected to the asphalt-making operation.

On July 31, the group made another attempt to shut down the plant by filing a complaint alleging it had violated terms of the original permit.

According to Kirkland's original presentations, the plant was supposed to be screened from its surrounding environment, operating in a pit more than 30 feet deep. But in its complaint, the citizens group alleges that the pit has been filled in, causing the plant to be clearly visible and possibly causing pollution runoff. The group submitted a videotape purporting to show smoke and dust emanating from the plant.

"It's a lot more visible than they said it was going to be," said Tim Hanes, a member of the citizens group. "There's smoke and steam and emissions . ... It blows right over my house."

Bill Johnston, the county's planning director, wrote a response to the group last week stating the county found no basis for most of the claims.

No changes have been made to the pit, Johnston says. "I've been out, personally, to this site," he said. "The topography of this site has not changed."

County staff inspected the plant's noise levels during operations in May and found them minimal, Johnston says. They also concluded that what looks like smoke in the citizens group's videotape was probably mostly steam.

Staff did find that some dust appeared to be blowing off piles of aggregate at the site. Though it's not a permit requirement, the county has asked Kirkland to water down the piles to reduce the dust, Johnston says. Kirkland has expressed its willingness to do so, he adds.

Representatives for Kirkland did not respond to messages as of press time.

Hanes, meanwhile, said the county's response "doesn't address any of our concerns. ... It's just kind of dancing around the issue."

While the citizens group's members aren't happy with the response, they also aren't surprised, Hanes says. "The county pretty much does what it wants to do, and to hell with the citizens."

Terje Langeland

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