Gravel rules pass easily

Few turn out for final vote on controversial ordinance

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2006

The public process was credited Tuesday night for allowing the Kenai Peninsula Borough to create gravel pit regulations acceptable to all sides of the controversial mining of sand and gravel needed as peninsula communities grow.

The borough assembly has been hammering out a revised set of rules for siting, operating and ceasing pit operations for a year and a half, and, according to assembly member Milli Martin, when the debate began, the assembly room was packed with people wanting to express their views.

On Tuesday, less than a handful spoke out.

“I was surprised the room wasn’t full,” said Martin, who added that the absence of people “speaks to the public process” of allowing all to have their say.

The controversy placed property owners — most notably those in Anchor Point — and some environmentalists against gravel pit operators.

Gravel is essential for constructing roads, building foundations and driveways in developing communities, but people in existing neighborhoods object to the dust and noise generated by pit operations. During the 1 1/2-year battle, homeowners also expressed fear of groundwater contamination from gravel pits, possible leaching of pollutants through the water table and into streams and the past practice of simply abandoning pits after needed gravel had been extracted.

Ordinance 2006-01, passed with eight affirming votes Tuesday, sought to address all those issues while allowing gravel pit operators to make a living without excessive government intervention.

The ninth assembly member, Grace Merkes, declared a conflict of interest and did not vote.

During the final public hearing on the ordinance prior to the vote, four residents addressed the assembly.

Saying his neighborhood on Virginia Drive near Cie-chanski Road had experienced water problems reportedly caused by a gravel pit operation, Travis Penrod told assembly members he felt reclamation was of paramount importance after pits cease operation.

“They tend to become storage areas for contractors’ equipment,” Penrod said.

Anchor Point resident Duane Christensen said he was frustrated that throughout the ordinance process, the impact on homeowners was not considered.

“My mind can’t even comprehend that you would open any subdivision to one-acre gravel pits,” Christensen said.

“It’s interesting that every year, my taxes go up and every year you do everything you can to reduce the value of what I can sell my home for,” he said.

Steve Ebbert, also of Anchor Point, was critical of several specific requirements in the proposed ordinance, including one mandating that “a minimum of three” water monitoring tubes be installed in a gravel pit to determine water flow direction, flow rate and water elevation.

“Three might be adequate in small, one-acre pits, but not in a larger pit say 10 or 50 acres,” he said.

In seeking to exempt homeowners from needing a permit if they were planning to dig up some gravel on their own land for installing a basement or a driveway, the proposed ordinance stated: “Material extraction which disturbs an area of less than one acre, does not enter the water table, and does not cross property boundaries does not require a permit.”

Ann Bayes of Anchor Point said the exemption “would have the potential to make one-acre potholes one right after another (in a community).”

The only change to the language allowing the exemption on small pits was adding the requirement that the pit not be within 20 feet of a right of way, offered by assembly member Dan Chay.

Martin then painstakingly read through 13 pages of amendments to the proposed law, ranging from permitting requirements to dust, noise, visual impact and water quality standards for material site extraction pits to requiring a plan for reclaiming the land once the pit was not longer in operation.

“There’s been a lot of work on this and ample opportunity for public comment, and I would like to get it on the books,” she said.

The ordinance takes effect immediately.

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