As the Colorado Department of Transportation moves forward with a long-planned realignment of U.S. Highway 550 and connection to the Bridge to Nowhere, a major private gravel pit is planned for the Bondad area.
Crossfire Aggregate Services has applied to open a gravel mine and concrete production facility south of Bondad Hill and about a half-mile from the Animas River.
The 220-acre Crossfire Bonds Gravel Pit is projected to provide building materials for the realignment of U.S. Highway 550 and connection to the Grandview interchange, also known as the Bridge to Nowhere, as well as other projects in La Plata County and northern New Mexico.
“We plan to service all the residents of La Plata County and hopefully some across the state line in San Juan County, (New Mexico),” said Jay Nielson, general manager of Crossfire Aggregate, the local company behind the application.
La Plata County has 106 existing construction-materials operations, said Russ Means, senior environmental protection specialist for the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. Many of those are very small, but 35 are more than 10 acres.
The Bondad proposal comes as government officials are eager to move forward with public road projects. Nielson said low oil prices are making such projects more affordable.
“It makes their dollar stretch further,” Nielson said. “You’re seeing more upgrades on gravel roads, chip-seal projects.”
Almost all of the material produced by La Plata County gravel mines is used locally for road surfaces, road base, concrete and even the decorative rock seen in some local housing developments.
“I’d say 99 percent of the material that is produced locally is consumed locally,” Means said.
In the Rocky Mountains, with rock and aggregate widely available, it doesn’t make economic sense to truck the material, he said.
Along with private companies, government agencies, including La Plata County, operate their own gravel pits.
The Bondad application comes from Crossfire Aggregate Services, an offshoot of Crossfire, a local industrial company that has its headquarters near Durango-La Plata County Airport. The core of its business provides services to the natural gas and oil industry, but the company is expanding into more fields. Crossfire and Crossfire Aggregate are owned locally by Ezra and Brook Lee.
Crossfire also has gravel mines in Pagosa Springs, Ignacio, Greeley and Blanco, New Mexico.
Crossfire Aggregate has applied for a blizzard of permits to build and operate the gravel pit and an access road off U.S. Highway 550. The gravel pit is expected to produce up to 250,000 tons of gravel a year, while the concrete facility is designed to produce up to 100 cubic yards of concrete per day, according to documents submitted to La Plata County.
The project’s air permit application to the Environmental Protection Agency focuses on particulate matter, which can cloud the skies around gravel mines. Plans call for using misters and other mitigation measures. The mine’s location on a bluff should aid dispersion of particulate matter, the EPA said.
Truck traffic also can be a concern near gravel pits. The Crossfire Bonds pit would generate an estimated 906 vehicle trips a day, according to a county permit application. That includes 278 daily trips by trucks hauling aggregate. At peak hours, the pit would generate 133 vehicle trips per hour, or more than two per minute.
Crossfire Aggregate could break ground on the mine in spring or early summer 2016, Nielson said.
One neighbor, Carla Weston, complained to the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety that Crossfire’s notification was inadequate. An access road was not included in the initial permit application. Crossfire responded by publishing a reworked legal notice and notifying more nearby landowners by mail.
“It was just a slight oversight on our part,” Nielson said.
Weston grew up on her family’s property just south of Bondad Hill. She said the proposed gravel mine has flown under the radar.
“I would think that most people aren’t aware there’s an application going on in this area,” she said.
The Bondad land is owned by Tom and Vern Bonds through Bonds Brothers, LLC. Last year, they signed a lease agreement with Crossfire Aggregate. The Bonds property is within the exterior boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation.
The proposed gravel mine is relatively large and would have an estimated life span of 20 to 30 years, Nielson said. The project would provide five to six jobs initially and up to 15 as the mine grows.
After their industrial lives are over, gravel pits have a range of uses. Plans call for the Crossfire Bonds Gravel Pit to return to rangeland after a few decades. Other gravel pits have become housing subdivisions, commercial developments or protected wildlife habitat.
Next week, the U.S. Open golf tournament will be played on a sprawling, fescue-grassed course built atop a former sand and gravel mine near Tacoma, Washington.