It's known as "The Scar," a mining area northwest of Colorado Springs. Some call it "ugly," but others see it as a sign of our booming construction industry.
But no matter what you think of it, 11 News Investigative Reporter Jeff Marcu has learned, The Scar will continue to grow, even though in the late 1990's, some community leaders said it would not.
The Pikeview Quarry has been in operation for nearly 100 years. Current owner, Castle Concrete, has been planting trees to re-vegetate some of the area. But it's also expanded the mining operations. Within the last year, the quarry grew by about five acres. It could cover an additional 21 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in the next five years. And the mining work would be extended an additional 5 to 10 years, with the last two years devoted to reclamation.
In order to rehabilitate the land, Castle Concrete Vice President Jerry Hermans says they actually have to do more damage to the area. "We had to have more land to try and make it look more slanted so we could do cliffs and make it more natural." The plan is to clear out trees, dirt and rock to even-out the slope. That could make it easier to re-seed the land and eventually cover the scar.
In the process of reclamating the mountainside, Castle Concrete is allowed to mine valuable limestone, nearly 2 million tons of it, worth about $5 million. It's part of an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and the state. But Hermans says the rehabilitation of the land will cost about $5 million dollars and thus eliminating any profit. "We'll be lucky if we break even with the movement of all the material off the top."
Some residents question that theory. So 11 News asked independent geologist John Himmelreich what he thinks of this project. He says Castle Concrete is being rewarded for not doing the job right the first time. "The reclamation plan, the enhanced reclamation plan, I think is a gift for past poor practices." Himmelreich is referring to this 1986 U.S. Government Mine Inspection report on the Pikeview Quarry. Even then, it listed concerns over how the rock was mined.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Jim Null had concerns, too. "It's very dissappointing to me." The quarry is outside city limits and didn't need council approval to expand, but it still impacts the city's northwest side. Null says the council went along with the plan, although reluctantly. "If we allow them to do this, because maybe their commitment is so public, that they will follow through on that commitment and terrace it and restore it."
Castle Concrete has helped restore other mine scars in El Paso County. The Queens Cannon Quarry reclamation project started about 10 years ago. The company expects to have similar results at the Pikeview Quarry. Still, it could be 10 to 20 years before there's any noticeable difference.
Some families do see benefit to having The Scar as a neighbor. Tim and Joy Townsend say it keeps property values down on their block and allowed them to buy their dream home. But other families say they can't help but resent this neighbor that keeps clearing the green off the mountain.