The county has scheduled the public hearing for Thursday, Nov. 14, at 10 a.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan. The interim planning director determined the pit is not likely to have an adverse effect on the environment. She added mitigations, including shaded lighting, control of dust and noxious weeds and a reclamation plan. Comments can be submitted in writing up to the hearing date. People can provide comments at the hearing. For more information or to comment, contact Rocky Robbins at email@example.com or (509) 422-7117.
Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover and Public Works staff spent Friday night (Oct. 11) talking with about 20 people at the community club in the town of Methow, trying to rebuild trust and clear up misunderstandings about a proposed gravel pit above the town.
Many of the same people had attended a meeting in June about the gravel pit and were distressed that an official legal notice published in August indicated that gravel crushing would take longer — and occur more often — than promised. They were also concerned about references to blasting and asphalt, neither of which had been described in June.
“There’s a difference in what we heard,” said area resident Mary Yglesia. “I feel that trust has been broken,” she said, noting that disruption from the pit had been minimized at the June meeting. “It turns out it could be horrible. Can we trust the conditional-use permit?” she said.
Gary George, road maintenance manager for Okanogan County, attributed the discrepancies to the need to plan for the worst-case scenario, in case of equipment breakdowns or bad weather. The legal notice described 24-hour-a-day operations and said the conditional-use permit (CUP) would allow cold-mix asphalt batching and blasting.
The summary in the legal notice was written by a staffer at the county’s Planning Department, Hover said. But neither he, County Engineer Josh Thomson nor George had read the notice before it was published in the newspaper, he said.
“I stood up here [in June] and said there would be no blasting. Gary did, too,” Hover said, explaining they’d been troubled by the wording in the notice. “What can you absolutely not live with that got in there?” he asked the group.
The “blasting” is not part of the gravel crushing, Hover said. The only blasting would be a one-time project to widen Danzl Road to access the pit site. Hover said they will specify that blasting would be “strictly” for road construction — not “primarily,” as it said in the legal ad.
At the June meeting, Hover and George reassured area residents that the gravel pit would follow the county’s standard cycle, with gravel being crushed once every five years. So when people read the legal notice, which said “every 4-5 years…crushing activity will operate 24 hours for 5-10 weeks,” they were alarmed.
The typical schedule for gravel crushing is four weeks — one week to set up equipment, two weeks for actual crushing, and one week to dismantle the equipment, George said. But the permit classifies the entire process as “crushing activity,” Hover said. They allowed for 24/7 operations in the CUP because that would reduce the total number of days for crushing and could mean a lower bid from a contractor, George said.
“Twenty-four hours is a big sticking point,” said area resident Bob Tonseth after talking with his neighbors. The county officials said they would amend the terms of the CUP to just 12 hours a day.
Rock and gravel would be transported three times a year — in May, July and October, George said this summer. The county won’t plow Danzl Road, so there would be no activity once it snows, he said.
George confirmed that the gravel crushing won’t involve hot asphalt. The “cold-mix asphalt batching” mentioned in the legal notice is the liquid asphalt the county uses for chip sealing, which is run through a truck and takes only a day or two, George said.
Hearing examiner to decide
“We can change it [the CUP] before the hearing, because we’re listening to you,” Hover said. “The county doesn’t want to disrupt people’s lives. We just need materials for roads.”
The decision on the CUP will be made by the county’s hearing examiner, Dan Beardslee, who will review the environmental checklist prepared by the county and take public comment on the proposed pit. He can propose conditions and mitigations.
Community members want the permit to include the strictest-possible conditions, including a ban on loud truck brakes.
“My overall observation is there’s a lot of leeway in the permit. The bottom line is, you can do up to what the permit says,” Isabelle Spohn, a Gold Creek property owner, said. She was concerned that the proposed CUP would be in effect for 75 years and urged the county to include periodic reviews.
The county needs assurance that it can get gravel from the pit for the long term, Thomson said. Otherwise, the county can’t justify purchasing the property, he said.
Test pits at the site found enough gravel to supply 1.6 million tons of gravel, enough for at least 75 years, George said.
The county has been looking for a new source for gravel for more than a year because the two existing pits in the Methow Valley are depleted.
The county has a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy 540 acres for the pit for $1 million. Because the county needs only 149 acres, officials have been in discussions with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), which has expressed interest in the remaining acres for public access and wildlife habitat. The pit itself would occupy 81 acres. The WDFW transaction is not assured. WDFW would have to obtain authorization and funding from the state, Hover said. The county will not buy the property if the CUP isn’t approved.
Because submitting a revised CUP now would require a new legal notice and delay the hearing, the county said it would specify amendments at the hearing. In addition to the CUP, the county will need surface-mining and air-quality permits from state agencies. The county hopes all permitting can be completed to begin crushing gravel by March 2020.