How Small Communities Can Rally to Protect Themselves

LaPorte, Colo., is a good example for communities that face adverse impacts to their public safety, health, and heritage.

By Janet Duvall

All across America, small communities with distinctive heritages often face a similar problem: Encroachment by industry and others whose intentions may easily disrupt the treasured lifestyle of residents.

Janet Duvall is a writer who lives in LaPorte, Colo. Learn more about her…

For some communities, people must face frequent struggles and battles to ward off interlopers with designs for changes that would adversely impact such peaceful corners of our busy world.

With these thoughts in mind, I want to tell you the story of the small community where I live—what’s happened there in the recent past, what’s happening today, and solutions we are considering.

It’s a story that residents of other such hamlets might find useful for preserving their ways of life.

LaPorte is a small, unincorporated area of about 2,600 residents located in northern Larimer County, Colorado. It’s an important historic area first settled in the 1820s by hardy mountain men and French-Canadian fur-tappers. It became the regional mountain headquarters and stage stop for the famed Overland Trail Stage Company. Today, LaPorte is a quaint and quiet community and, as its name suggests—LaPorte is French for “the door”—it is the scenic doorway into the beautiful northern Colorado Rockies.

LaPorte is not a city. It has no identified boundary and is not able to control its own destiny. LaPorte residents must rely on three Larimer County Commissioners to make decisions about the future of the community. The commissioners are elected county-wide to a 4-year term and often live far from LaPorte.

A typical view from LaPorte. Photo by Homes For The Colorado Lifestyle.

A busy highway—U.S. 287—originally bisected LaPorte and funneled ever-increasing numbers of cars and trucks through town during the 1970s and 1980s. With both an elementary school and middle school located in LaPorte, parents were seriously concerned about children walking and riding bicycles along and across the highway. In the early 1970s, LaPorte citizens requested the county commissioners to push the federal highway department for a bypass to get trucks out of the community.

Please take a few moments and complete the short poll at the end of this article.

Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for the commissioners to push hard enough. In 1977, a seven-year-old boy riding his bicycle along the highway was killed by a semi-truck barreling through LaPorte. It took 12 more years of red tape and haggling, but in 1989 U.S. 287 was rerouted to a bypass. The old U.S. 287 through town was designated as County Road 54G. Truck traffic was finally out of LaPorte.

The main street of LaPorte, Colo., where residents fought for years to remove heavy truck traffic. Photo by Wikipedia.

But will that victory stand? LaPorte remains vulnerable to any company or industry that wants to set up shop, and LaPorte’s people will be affected by the related traffic, air pollution and other negative impacts of that operation.

In the early 1990s, Holnam Cement—part of the worldwide company, Holcim— operated a cement plant located north and upwind of LaPorte. Holman proposed burning hazardous waste as fuel in its cement-making process. A large number of residents living in LaPorte and a nearby city, Fort Collins, Colo., formed the Clean Air Coalition. An atmospheric science professor at Colorado State University provided instruments to monitor air quality in the middle of LaPorte. Residents kept careful records, and the resulting scientific data revealed high levels of particulate matter in LaPorte’s air, likely due to already established mining and gravel operations in the area, along with the large number of unpaved dusty roads around LaPorte.

Members of the Clean Air Coalition—worried about children, the elderly, and others prone to asthma and other respiratory illnesses—expressed outrage at every public meeting held by Holnam and county officials. The board of county commissioners showed little concern, but Holnam leaders withdrew their application before a county decision was made. Holnam listened to the community.

Several years later, another company located north and upwind of LaPorte—Colorado Lien, one of the multi-state quarry operations of Pete Lien & Sons—proposed to crush quartz to create silica: a glass-making component, a proven carcinogen and causative agent in the deadly lung disease silicosis. Once again, LaPorte citizens rallied against the proposal. They were joined by residents living close to the quartz-mining operation near Buckeye, Colo. Colorado Lien pressed forward despite opposition and the decision whether to approve an operation that would put silica dust into the air upwind of LaPorte came to a new board of county commissioners. The proposal was denied.

Today, LaPorte faces another threat. Loveland Ready Mix (LRM) wants to establish a gravel-mining, rock-crushing and batch plant (a concrete plant) operation adjacent to residential homes on the east side of LaPorte.

Colorado Mining Law requires that gravel and other mineral resources must be extracted where they occur, but it does not require rock crushing and concrete-making on the site of extraction. The law does require decision-makers to reduce the impact on the environment and quality of life for citizens living in nearby communities and to develop a master plan for all gravel mining in the area. Larimer County has developed a “master plan,” but it is only a map showing the locations of the multiple existing and proposed mining sites; it does not address the cumulative impacts of such mining.

LaPorte, Colo.: Surrounded by mining operations, the small community wants to maintain its public safety, health, and history.

LRM has been pushing its agenda through the county review system in spite of thousands of people who wrote letters, spoke out at public hearings, and signed petitions (more than 3,000 signatures) circulated by the nonprofit No LaPorte Gravel grassroots organization. Although the LaPorte Area Planning Advisory Committee—a group of LaPorte citizens appointed by the county to advise the county commissioners—voted to deny the LRM proposal, the Larimer County Planning Commission voted to approve with a number of modifications to the original plan.

Regardless of appeals for help from the people of LaPorte, the LRM mining operation was approved by the county commissioners in a 2-to-1 vote. LRM has promised to mitigate some negative impacts, but the company has no way to mitigate the estimated 316 truck trips per day connected to their operation. The dissenting commissioner, Steve Johnson, proposed LRM access be limited to the bypass (the new U.S. Highway 287 route). His suggestion was voted down, and LRM truck traffic will be dumped directly onto County Road 54G (the old, embattled U.S. Highway 287), creating more traffic on the primary route into LaPorte. Although these trucks are prohibited from traveling west into the community unless local deliveries are required, LRM has designs for gravel mining on other sites in the LaPorte area. More proposals will be coming.

A view of what some unincorporated communities face as surface mining companies move in to gather resources. This is a site in Kansas. LaPorte, Colo., is looking at a similar scenario. Photo by Kansas Department of Agriculture.

This brings us full-circle back to where this article began. If your community faces challenges, what can you do to protect your way of life?  Consider the following types of actions — outlined here for LaPorte residents to protect their community – and adapt them to your own situation:

  1. Support and work through No LaPorte Gravel, a non-profit organization working to hire an environmental lawyer to delay the LRM gravel mining, rock crushing, and batch plant operation until the impact to the community has been scientifically determined. One can contribute funds to support this work at the NLG website.
  2. Take action and urge Larimer County Commissioners to develop and adopt an area master plan that would study the cumulative impacts on air quality, water quality, traffic, noise and other impacts created by current and future gravel mining near LaPorte.
  3. Seek a favorable candidate, living in the LaPorte area, to run for Larimer County Commissioner in 2020. The three commissioners are elected county-wide, but one commissioner lives in each of three geographic districts. LaPorte is located in District 2, currently represented by Commissioner Steve Johnson.  Steve Johnson was elected as commissioner for District 2 in 2008, and although he supports the people of LaPorte, he cannot run for re-election in 2020 due to term limits.
  4. Organize a community meeting and consider becoming incorporated, thus giving LaPorte the ability to create boundaries, elect local decision makers and take control of its own destiny.

Here are websites that you can use to organize in your community:

People Power from the Grassroots. This site talks about fundamental strategies available to communities that want to organize to address problems.

Community Toolbox. This site largely focuses on social action, but it offers a good framework that can help with community activists in any issue.

No LaPorte Gravel. This is the website for grassroots opposition in LaPorte. It’s a good template and resource for seeing how a community approaches and tries to solve a problem.

Read more about the LaPorte mining issue:

Janet Duvall’s previous articles for Writers With No Borders:

One thought on “How Small Communities Can Rally to Protect Themselves

  1. Thank you for this informative and compelling post! It says so much about the spirit of LaPorte area residents. Please consider sharing it with the Colorado Sun and/or other independent media outlets

    Like

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