Site near Methow would supply road projects
The county has begun studying the feasibility of a gravel pit above the town of Methow. The Okanogan County commissioners signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the land on July 30, giving them 180 days to determine feasibility and take public comment, part of obtaining a conditional-use permit (CUP) for the proposed pit.
Under the purchase agreement, the county would pay $1 million for 540 acres. The pit would supply gravel for road projects and winter maintenance in the Methow Valley.
The county has been searching for a new pit site for more than a year because the two existing pits in the Methow are depleted, said Gary George, the county’s road maintenance manager.
“In five years, if private-sector costs go through the roof, we have our own resource. It’s a way of protecting the taxpayers.”
Gary George, Okanogan County Road Maintenance Manager
Public Works will submit a project description and site plan to the Planning Department next week, said Anna Randall, environmental coordinator for Public Works. Planning will complete an initial review of any environmental impacts from the pit and notify some 300 adjoining landowners, Randall said. The county has to perform soil tests.
The decision on the CUP will be made by the county’s hearing examiner, who will review the environmental checklist prepared by the county, and take public comment on the proposed pit. He can propose conditions and mitigations.
In July, the commissioners extended the purchase agreement with property owner Claude Miller by a few weeks to explore the potential for acquiring gravel at a lower cost from the private sector.
Even if the purchase of the Methow property goes through, the county intends to solicit bids for crushed rock and gravel — and for crushing alone — to see if any commercial pits in the county can provide the rock at a lower price, George said.
Even at existing county-owned pits, the county hires a contractor to do the crushing. The cost of hiring a contractor for crushing is typically $300,000 to $350,000, George said.
“We’re committed to maintaining county roads for the benefit of the taxpayers at the cheapest price,” George said. By buying the Methow pit, the county would be gaining a much-needed resource. “In five years, if private-sector costs go through the roof, we have our own resource,” George said. “It’s a way of protecting the taxpayers.”
Their initial analysis found the Methow site would be less expensive than other options, for both crushing and trucking to job sites.
Any commercial pit would have to be located close enough to the road projects, because it’s too costly to haul gravel long distances, George said.
Crushing at the Methow pit would occur every five years, which includes one week to set up equipment, two weeks for actual crushing, and one week to demobilize the equipment, George said.
Valley pits depleted
At present, there are three commercial gravel pits in the county — Cascade Concrete in Winthrop, and a pit near the Omak airport and one in Pateros, both owned by the same company.
The county owns five active crushing pits, near Riverside, Oroville, Chesaw, the Aeneas Valley and Wauconda. The county also owns a pit in Okanogan, but it has no more gravel, so the county pays for crushing on adjacent property, George said.
Because both county pits in the Methow are depleted, George was encouraged when the county found land for sale north of Methow, west of state Highway 153 off Danzl Road. Test pits on a high bench found gravel to a depth of at least 20 feet. That would supply 1.6 million tons of gravel, enough for a minimum of 75 years, he said. Gravel would be scooped out of a flat area about 500 feet above the town, not blasted out of hillsides.
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.
The county needs only 149 acres for the gravel pit. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has expressed interest in purchasing the remaining acres for wildlife habitat with public access, but that deal — and funding for it — would have to be approved by the state. The purchase of land for the pit is not contingent on any deal with WDFW.
The county and WDFW have agreed to a per-acre price that puts the value of the 391 acres the state would buy at about $725,000, George said.
Many area residents have voiced concern about the pit, saying it would create dust and noise pollution and lower their property values. But others welcomed the prospect of additional public land and wildlife habitat and said the gravel pit would be preferable to residential development.
Total appraisal by the Okanogan County assessor for all four parcels in the deal with Miller 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 the assessor’s records.
No date has been set for the public hearing before the hearing commissioner, but it will be advertised in the legal notices in the Methow Valley News.