County’s CUP application raises concerns
New hearing, more time to comment
Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee took comments about the pit itself last week and has scheduled a follow-up hearing to address the environmental appeal. He is still accepting comments about the use of the property as a gravel pit, conditions for mining, and potential environmental impacts. There will be a hearing focused primarily on the environmental issues on Thursday, Dec. 5, at 10 a.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan.
People need more complete, solid information to effectively evaluate Okanogan County’s proposal to put a gravel pit near the town of Methow.
That was one of the take-aways from a public hearing last week on a proposed conditional use permit for the gravel pit, conducted by Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee.
“I would be a lot happier if there was a more detailed plan,” Beardslee told county staff who presented the application, maps and sketches about the pit at the Nov. 14. hearing. “I need to see the actual extent of the pit operations,” such as a cross-section diagram.
“Our concern is that the information keeps changing and is not conducive to a fair process,” Lorah Super, program director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council said in comments for organization. “It’s impossible to comment when details change during the public-comment period.”
“This is a moving target — it’s very difficult to comment,” said Winthrop attorney Mark Ryan, who has filed an appeal on behalf of property owners who live across from the proposed pit site.
Okanogan County presented modifications to its application for a conditional-use permit (CUP) for the first time at the hearing. The county has a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy 540 acres for $1 million for the pit. The county won’t buy the property if the CUP isn’t approved.
The county’s modifications cut operating hours in half, from 24 hours a day to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The amended plans also provide more details about the gravel-crushing schedule. Normal crushing would be for up to five weeks every five years, with active crushing taking two to three weeks. The other weeks are for setting up and dismantling equipment. If problems arise from weather or equipment breaks down, the crushing window could be extended to a maximum of 10 weeks, they said. Earlier projections for crushing varied from four to 10 weeks, without an explanation for the time range.
The county’s modifications also clarify the use of blasting, which is not part of the crushing but a one-time procedure to improve the access road. The county has committed to meeting with interested parties at least once every 15 years.
About 15 people attended the hearing and four testified, as did two lawyers — Ryan and a lawyer for the owner of the property where the pit would be. The county has also received written comments, both for and against the pit.
One area resident at the hearing voiced great concerns about the pit and its impact on quality of life in the lower valley. Another is concerned about light pollution from the mine. Yet another worries about truck noise and exhaust.
“For someone to say there won’t be noise in our community just blows my mind. This is how we ruin small towns in America,” said one.
In addition to the CUP, the county will need air-quality and site-reclamation permits. Anna Randall, environmental coordinator for Okanogan County Public Works, said the county has already been in contact with the state agencies. But some in the public said they can’t adequately comment without knowing the permit details.
The hearing was initially scheduled on the conditional-use permit, but Beardslee has consolidated it with the environmental appeal from the Methow River Ranch Phase II Homeowners Association.
There’s no dispute that the county needs a new source of gravel for the Methow Valley — for road maintenance and sand for traction in winter. The two existing pits in the Methow are depleted and are used only to stockpile rock and gravel, according to Angie Hubbard, the county’s interim planning director.
“It’s important there be a gravel mine, but is this the place — and can it be properly mitigated?” homeowners association attorney Ryan said. Their property is directly across the valley from the gravel-pit site and property owners would look down on the pit. “This is clearly a long-time intrusion into their lives,” he said.
The appellants say the mine would lower their property values, but Winthrop attorney Sandy Mackie, who represents Claude Miller, the current owner of the land the county hopes to buy for the pit, said that people need to be aware of zoning — which already permitted mining — when they purchase property.
Mackie said mitigating noise connected with the mine would be straightforward, particularly since the nearest residences are half-a-mile to a mile away.
Numbers for truck traffic connected with the mine vary widely. In the appeal, Ryan extrapolated that there could be more than 6,000 truck trips a year, which he called “a very large increase in truck traffic over the original estimates.”
At the hearing, the county submitted an estimate of 1,900 trucks a year. In an interview after the hearing, County Engineer Josh Thomson said this was the first estimate of truck trips the county has prepared. The county previously provided a comparison of the costs of hauling rock from several locations, which included travel time and mileage, he said.
It’s too costly to truck rock and gravel from other parts of the county for roadwork in the Methow, according to Public Works staff. Without a local source of rock, they may have to postpone chip sealing roads in the Methow, Thomson said.
Miller and the county signed a purchase-and-sale agreement on July 30, which gives the county 180 days to determine feasibility and take public comment. The property has a barn and corrals but no other structures. It has been used for cattle and horses since 1965. Mackie said there are no wildlife nests or dens on the property.
The county needs only 149 acres for the pit. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has expressed interest in buying the remaining 391 acres the county as wildlife habitat with public access, according to Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover.