Gravel ordinance yet to see surface

Posted: Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A panel of experts in mining, land and water met with members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Friday to discuss mining issues affecting a proposed land-use ordinance that, if passed, could alter the future of the peninsula's commercial gravel industry.

Ordinance 2005-13, a controversial measure first introduced in March by assembly member Dan Chay of Kenai, aims to clarify conditions under which the borough would issue materials-site land-use permits.

Under current borough law, neighbors living next to already permitted gravel pits who are experiencing water disruptions bear the burden of proving that those disruptions were caused by pit operations. Ordinance 2005-13 would shift that burden to the pit operator. More importantly, it would require that an applicant demonstrate that pit operations would not harm local aquifers prior to a permit being issued.

The ordinance has been postponed several times, most recently in late September when assembly members said they wanted to hear from various experts familiar with material-site mining, and specifically from a hydro-geologist.

Friday's work session heard from Sam Means and Gary Prokosch of the Department of Natural Resources, Dave Casey with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Phil North of the EPA, Allen King, of the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration, and Dan Young, a hydrogeologist with the Anchorage firm Terrasat.

Chay said the session was helpful to meet with various state and federal agency representatives and the hydrogeologist.

"It gave us a bit of a snapshot of the law and theory and implementation," he said. "We got an overview of the state and federal laws with regards to wetlands."

The meeting lasted about four hours. No public testimony was taken.

Borough Planner Max Best said the agency representatives made it clear just what they do and do not regulate, and that itself was instructive. Beyond that, he said, Dan Young explained how water migrates and what kind of testing might be necessary to show the affects digging in a materials site might produce in adjoining water wells.

"It was a 101 approach to hydrogeology," Best said.

The Department of Labor's representative, Allen King, discussed federal safety issues. Best noted that the federal agency comes into play when value is added to a mined product. Simply scraping up earth and filling dump trucks requires no agency involvement, he said, but if that earth is screened, sifted and crushed to make a finished gravel product, the gravel pit operation may fall under the Mine Safety and Health Administration's pur-view requiring registration with the agency's office in Anchorage.

"If you run a gravel pit, you should probably contact them," Best said.

Chay said he remains confident that the ordinance, in some form, would eventually be passed, perhaps even at the Dec. 6 meeting. He did say, however, that he expects to present the assembly either with amendments or a substitute ordinance that would include, among other things, provisions ad-dressing how baseline data relating to a material site might be gathered and assessed.

Chay added that his materials-site proposal addressed only a limited range of issues in Title 21, the chapter in borough code covering zoning.

"My proposal was aimed at the groundwater paragraph," Chay said. "It was not intended to address all of the chapter."

Chay said there were a host of land-use issues that could be addressed over the winter.

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