Neighbors protest gravel pit on bluff

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to show that Wayne Bumpus did not protest the development of the gravel pit, only the possible use of Corea Bend road for through-traffic.

 

A proposed gravel pit near the bluff in Clam Gulch has neighbors concerned about erosion and additional disturbance in their neighborhood.

The borough’s Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a gravel pit at approximately Mile 125 of the Sterling Highway in Clam Gulch, on the bluff side. The applicant, Sean Wedemeyer, plans to extract gravel on his approximately 64-acre property and build an access road from the highway to the pit.

Wedemeyer said he has owned the acreage since 2007. The upcoming project to resurface the Sterling Highway seemed like a good chance to monetize the property.

“I have thought of a number of things to do with that property — gravel pit really never was one of them,” Wedemeyer said. “I really had planned of subdividing it or selling it outright. But when the project came up to resurface the highway … then it became economically viable.”

Dana York can see the site from her back porch, which overlooks the bluff. She said she is not generally opposed to gravel pits, but putting one so close to the bluff seems unreasonable to her, she said. The presence of a gravel pit might decrease her property value, she said, and she fears erosion from the additional activity.

“What I’m really concerned about is erosion,” York said. “We don’t have any legal way we can stop him because the borough doesn’t have any zoning laws.”

The residents of Corea Bend Road, an unpaved road that winds through a subdivision, may see heavy equipment rumbling along the street. The site for the proposed gravel pit does not currently have an access road, so the operators would use Corea Bend Road to reach the site until a road is finished.

Wedemeyer said he plans to construct Floyd Blossom Avenue from the Sterling Highway down to the site of the gravel pit. The conditional use permit is good for five years, though he said he’s not sure how long he would operate the pit yet.

“I guess people’s knee-jerk reaction is, ‘A gravel pit? Not in my backyard!’” Wedemeyer said. “But their benefit is they get a better road, and (the pit) may not even be operating for all that long. … I’m looking at (operating) his for the life of the project, which is two seasons, but I’m not making any promises on that yet.”

Frank and Mary Ferguson have lived on Corea Bend Road since 1999. They said they are concerned about the traffic on the road and the potential for dust blowing into their area as well as erosion.

They said they have watched the bluff fall back many feet in the years they have lived on the property. They said they are concerned about erosion in the area and for the welfare of migratory birds, which use the hay field as a stopping place.

The Fergusons said they didn’t see much benefit in a new road, either. Frank Ferguson said he was concerned that with a connecting road, most people would be able to go through the neighborhood and they would not be able to see who was coming in and out. Mary Ferguson said the argument that a new road would provide better access for emergency services is not true — most of the residents live along Corea Bend Road anyway, and the ambulances would have to make a longer trip and come up the other side to reach the houses.

“We’ve been a quiet community, and now all at once they want to put this road in and haul gravel out on that road,” Frank Ferguson said. “But we’re going to get all the traffic over here.”

The excavators would travel along Corea Bend Road and down through an existing gravel pit to reach the new one for a few days while Floyd Blossom Avenue is being constructed. Wayne Bumpus, who also lives on Corea Bend Road, said he was concerned for the additional traffic on the road and in the gravel pit. Many of the local residents have grandchildren who play on the road and down to the gravel pit, which will end with the activity in the gravel pit, he said.

Bumpus, who said he has worked on construction sites all over the state, expressed concern about the integrity of the road. Although Corea Bend Road is borough-maintained, it was not built to borough standards — there is no fabric beneath it and it will likely washboard quickly with extremely heavy equipment using it regularly, he said.

He said he understood that there was no legal standing to block the gravel pit, but he said he wished the local government would listen more to the will of the locals. He said he did not oppose the development of the gravel pit, only the use of the road.

“This would never fly anywhere else in the world,” Bumpus said. “And we don’t want to lose our freedom. We don’t want to have all these laws that start saying, ‘You want to develop a gravel pit, you have to test the gravel, get it approved,’ but it seems like there isn’t anything.”

York and the Fergusons asked the Planning Commission on April 25 to vote against the conditional use permit. Four members did vote against it, but the permit still receive approval.

Wedemeyer said he had reached out to many of the neighbors about their concerns. Regarding erosion, he said he has walked the beach many times in the years he has owned the property and that any erosion on the bluff would occur from the bottom up. The development would leave 50 feet on three sides for vegetation and at least 50 on the bluff side, according to the proposed plat.

The Fergusons said they still thought the presence of the gravel pit would likely have an effect on the environment. However, the permit has been approved, and they acknowledge there is nothing they can do.

“Frank and I have always said that if they wanted to build a big condo building down there, there’d be nothing we could do,” Mary Ferguson said.

 

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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