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Eastern Idaho residents question gravel pit

By Emily Jones
Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO – Robin-area residents say their civil rights were violated when a gravel pit was opened near their home without their knowledge or a required conditional use permit two years ago.

In what Bannock County Planning and Development Director Tim Shurtleff calls an honest mistake by his department's former Director Terry Bailey, state officials were given permission to operate a gravel pit near Arimo without a conditional use permit.

In a 2000 letter to Idaho Transportation Department officials, Planning and Development officials said the state was not required to obtain local permits, and that the county would not require one.

Now, Planning and Development officials are attempting to remedy the situation by requiring the state to apply for a permit for the already-operational pit, Commissioner Jim Guthrie said this week.

"This situation is not the one you would pick, but it's the situation we're in now and we're trying to make the best of it," Guthrie said.

Idaho Transportation Department officials have filed a Conditional Use Permit Application, including provisions for a crusher and hot mix plant.

Engineer Ed Bala said there are no plans to use a hot mix plant or crusher at the site, but he wants the possibility to be open. The pit is currently used only when there is a state project nearby.

Robin resident Dan Williams said when he first heard gravel would be mined in the area nearly three years ago, he checked with Planning and Development, and was told there would be a public hearing and posted sign before any permit was issued.

Later, Williams said he spoke with the county commissioners, and Guthrie set up a meeting where state officials explained how the mine worked, and listened to resident concerns.

Williams said he wanted the county to stop the mine because it lacks proper permits.

"I feel (Guthrie) should have stopped the project," Williams said. "He had the chance to do the right thing."

Guthrie said he thought the issue was resolved after that meeting. After the issue resurfaced, and county officials did some research, however, Shurtleff said the county will now require the state to go through the permitting process.

All gravel pits in Bannock County are required to have a conditional use permit, Guthrie said.

"We took the position that (a conditional use permit) was needed," Shurtleff said. "We're processing it just as if it was a new application."

Bannock County Planning and Zoning Board held a public hearing Feb. 19 on the proposed permit and a study session on the matter Wednesday. They will vote on the proposal at their next meeting March 17.

Bala says the state applied for a conditional use permit in 2000 before receiving permission from the county to move forward.

Bala said Monday that he is happy to comply with county requirements, and that conditional use permits are common for gravel pits.

"We're not asking to be exempt from any standards," Bala said.

Because the pit has already been mined, Williams says it's too late to hold a fair hearing.

"We think the deck is stacked against us," Williams said. "We feel it's illegally running in the first place."

If any party is unsatisfied with the Planning and Development decision, it can be appealed, first to the county commissioners, then to district court.

If it is appealed to the commissioners, Guthrie said he and the other commissioners are bound to review only the information presented to Planning and Zoning.

"Our simple charge is to decide whether (Planning and Zoning) made a mistake," he said. "We have to keep our opinions at bay."

Williams says he doesn't want the gravel pit to continue operating for several reasons. The pit causes dust, and traffic is a concern, Williams said.

The pit is located at the bottom of a hill, with a blind corner at the other side, he said. When the pit is in operation, semi-trucks travel in front of Marsh Valley High School throughout the day, posing a possible risk to students, he said.

Williams's son, Dusty Williams, lives next to the pit, and says dust and noise are a concern when the pit is in operation. He worries property values will decrease.

Bala says he hopes he has addressed concerns in the permit application. In the application, the state offers to pay the Bannock County Sheriff's Department overtime money to police traffic on the area, and to control dust using magnesium chloride.