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Dolores residents plan to challenge 24/7 operations, housing at IronWood mill

Company’s plan for growth will be addressed at a county Planning and Zoning Commission meeting tonight

On-site housing for employees, steaming vats and 24/7 operations at the IronWood mill in Dolores are on the agenda for the Montezuma County Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing meeting Thursday, and a group of community members plans to share their concerns.

The meeting is 6 to 8 p.m. in room No. 205 in the county’s administrative offices at 109 W. Main St.

Feb 28, 2020
IronWood revives mill west of Dolores

The mill, at 27736 County Road T, aims to house employees in six units with 23 bedrooms and five kitchens on 1½ acres of property.

In addition, the mill intends to install steaming vats for drying logs on a 3-acre portion of bordering property it plans to acquire.

All mill staff will be laid off through winter because the company has no steaming vats currently installed to dry wood, said Jeff Bunnell, CEO of IronWood Group LLC.

Previously, the mill ran five days a week in two 10-hour shifts.

He said the vats wouldn’t generate more noise, traffic or harmful substances.

Lana Kelly, who runs neighboring Circle C RV Park and Campground, organized a group of RV park residents, other nearby residents and mill workers, which has met to discuss mill operations. They are concerned that 24-hour operation wasn’t previously authorized, and about the addition of the bunk houses and steaming vats.

Kelly said the group has retained an attorney.

“When IronWood first came into the neighborhood everybody was happy – they’re bringing jobs to Montezuma County, and it seemed like a good thing,” she said. “Then we had all this noise, people couldn't sleep, there was light shining in everybody's windows, and actually, it's quieter during the day.”

She said residents have complained to the mill and the county Planning and Zoning Department and that it’s a “very emotional issue for many of us.”

“Initially we embraced IronWood being here because we just did not realize what was going to happen, and we were not properly notified,” Kelly said.

County Planning and Zoning Director Don Haley said public hearings discussed that the mill would look to increase its operation to two or three shifts, running 24 hours a day, as it expanded. The existing high-impact/special use permit doesn’t explicitly state this, he said, so it’s being amended.

He said the main reason for the proposed amendment to the mill’s permit is to include a 3-acre parcel of land being sold by the mill’s eastern neighbor, to be used for the steaming vats. Housing units are on site but have not been used or supplied with utilities, he said.

Bunnell said four units have been leveled on the property, but that they will remain empty until permitted for use.

“We're doing our due diligence, and we're going through the proper channels with the county,” Bunnell said.

Haley said the department wasn’t aware of any plan that would exceed land use standards, and that the mill is monitoring its noise levels, and is working on fire mitigation strategies with the county’s emergency manager.

Operating hours upset neighbor

Trent Bishop, who lives in a property bordering the mill, said he assessed daytime noise levels from the mill before recently moving to the area.

Bishop said he soon realized the machines run into the night – much later than he had anticipated.

“To me, it's kind of like a kid that's been breaking the rules and then asking for somebody to change the rules to give them more leeway,” he said.

Residents said they were pleased that the mill has brought jobs to the county.

“We're all happy to have a strong business here,” Bishop said. “We just want them to be a good neighbor, and continue to do well and play by the rules.”

One man, a resident of a neighboring property and a worker at the mill, said he plans to speak at Thursday’s meeting to complain about the noise .

“I told my supervisors, I said ‘This is wrong. What are you going to do about it?’ They just looked at me,” he said.

Housing needed, CEO says

Bunnell said the community has not been able to supply enough employees for the mill, and on-site housing would provide housing for outside workers.

“We currently have 72 employees, but we need another 20. Every single day,” he said. “We can't get enough people to run this mill.”

He said the mill pays an average of $57,000 a person per year and provides full benefits.

“We've invested $15 million into this property in this community to try to make it better and put people to work,” he said.

Kelly said she feels surrounding residents haven’t had a say in mill operations.

“We feel like that this is an effort to just turn our neighborhood into an industrial park and drive us out, and we have no choice. Who’s going to buy our properties? Who’s going to stay here? It's upsetting, because most of us plan on being here forever.”

Bishop said he is concerned about raising his daughter in the area.

“How many people are they trying to move in there? What kind of people are they trying to move in there?” he said.

Ed Carpenter, who also lives near the mill, plans to voice his concerns at Thursday night’s meeting.

“What we're going to be doing is saying we need a master plan for this particular site,” he said. “And that master plan needs to work within the boundaries and requirements of a good master plan that identifies all of the impacts – whether they be environmental, whether they be traffic, community-wise, noise abatement, all of that – in an engineered way, so everyone understands what the carbon footprint of this facility is going to be.”