Residents worry about dust, noise
The Okanogan County commissioners want more time to research costs and address community concerns before deciding whether to proceed with an agreement to spend $1 million on 540 acres above the town of Methow for a gravel pit.
Approving the agreement doesn’t commit the county to buying the property. The agreement would launch a 180-day feasibility period for the county to do an environmental review, conduct soil testing, and apply for a conditional-use permit, Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston told two dozen people at a public hearing on the proposed pit on Monday (July 8). “Public Works doesn’t need the property if it can’t have the pit,” said Huston.
A few of the nine people who testified said a gravel pit would be preferable to more residential growth, but most were concerned about dust, noise and a decline in their property value.
Attorney Mark Ryan testified on behalf of the Methow River Ranch homeowners, who strongly oppose the pit because it will be an eyesore and bring noise, dust and pollution, decreasing their property value. The homeowners want terms in any agreement that would prevent the county from increasing the frequency of rock crushing, Ryan said.
Although the county has answered the big-picture questions, there are still lots of loose ends, said another area resident. She asked the county to specify the time frame for gravel crushing and its plans for visual mitigation and wildfire control.
A lifelong Methow resident who owns property below the pit site said he supported the county’s plans. “I would much rather see [a gravel pit] than another housing development like we have across the valley,” he said.
Another woman from the area hailed the county for providing detailed information about the proposal. She called the pit a “fiscally responsible” move that’s in the best interests of county residents. It’s preferable to more housing, she said.
“There are too many questions and the time’s too short. What’s the hurry?” asked one man at the hearing.
“We’re not rushing, but we’re officially out of rock in the Methow Valley,” said Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro after the testimony.
The county has been looking for a new rock source because the two existing pits in the Methow Valley are depleted, said Road Maintenance Manager Gary George. If the county doesn’t find a new source of gravel, they’ll have to reevaluate their 2020 road-maintenance plan, said George.
“For Public Works, chip seal is what gets curtailed — that is the balancing act,” said County Commissioner Andy Hover.
So when Chad Patterson, the owner of Cascade Concrete Products, dangled a potential business proposal at the hearing, it appeared to add a new wrinkle to the discussion.
Last fall, Okanogan County staff had asked for an estimate on 10,000 tons of rock, but the job was so small that Cascade Concrete wasn’t interested in bidding, said Patterson. But when Patterson learned that the county needs a larger quantity of rock, gravel and sand, he said his firm “could be very competitive.” Cascade Concrete owns and operates four gravel pits in Winthrop.
“With the new financial information from today,” it would be remiss to decide without further analyzing costs and other aspects of the pit before deciding, said Hover after the public testimony.
Because the county needs only 149 acres for the gravel pit, Hover has talked with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) about the property, which adjoins state and federal land. WDFW’s regional director is willing to go on record about the agency’s interest in purchasing the remaining acres for upland wildlife habitat, said Hover at the hearing.
The county and state have agreed to a per-acre price that puts the value of the 391 acres at about $725,000, said George last week. Because WDFW needs approval and funding, there is no guarantee of a deal, said Hover.
If WDFW doesn’t buy the remaining land, one person at the hearing asked if there’s another way to ensure it would remain public.
“To see the county advocate for converting private property to public land is a rare thing around here,” said another who supported the deal.
But Ryan, speaking on behalf of the Methow River Ranch homeowners, wasn’t reassured. “There are no promises — just a chance to get much louder and noisier,” he said.
Evaluating environmental impacts will be an important part of their decision making, said County Commissioner Chris Branch.
Pluses and minuses
Testing at the site in Methow, west of state Highway 153 off Danzl Road, found gravel to a depth of at least 20 feet — enough for at least 75 years, said George. Gravel would be scooped out of a flat area about 500 feet above the town, not blasted out of hillsides.
Production at the pit would follow the county’s standard cycle, with gravel being crushed once every five years. That includes one week to set up equipment, two weeks for actual crushing, and one week to demobilize the equipment, said George at a community meeting in Methow last week.
Rock and gravel would be transported three times a year — one week in May and one in July, for road work; and two to three days in October to bring sand to county shops for winter maintenance. They will notify residents in advance, said George.
The Methow pit would be less expensive than the county’s central pit or a commercial pit in Pateros, said George.
The proposed Methow pit “does a lot of good things, but there’s a lot of concern in the community. They’re valid points,” said Hover.
The four parcels in the proposed deal are owned by Claude Miller. Total appraisal by the Okanogan County assessor for all four parcels is $434,500, including a pole barn valued at $24,600. The land is used primarily for agriculture and total taxable value is $6,500, according to assessor’s records.
Although the commissioners postponed their decision on the land purchase for three weeks, the county needs to negotiate an extension in the purchase-and-sale agreement with Miller to move ahead.
If they can renegotiate the agreement, the commissioners will take up the issue again on Tuesday, July 30, at 2 p.m. They have closed public comment on the purchase, but there will be public input on the conditional-use permit and environmental review if they move forward with the purchase.