After compiling a half-inch stack of bureaucracy, filled with double-sided reports, documents and comments, coupled with hours of testimony, the Gallatin County Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit for a gravel pit in the Gallatin Gateway area on Wednesday.
The Morgan pit, proposed by TMC, Inc., is the first operation to go through the newly minted county rules adopted as part of an emergency interim zoning ordinance approved in May. Gallatin County stands beside Flathead County as the only local governments in the state to adopt regulations governing gravel pits, County Planning Director Greg Sullivan said.
The permitting process was adopted after residents expressed concerns over new and amended pits that cropped up around the county. The regulations are similar to requirements asked of housing developers and, in the end, the county is attempting to mitigate neighbors’ concerns by developing “good neighbor” policies, County Commissioner Joe Skinner said.
“I think we are doing our intent here,” he said. “There is going to be some effect, but I think we have come up with some very good mitigations.”
TMC must adhere to 46 conditions that cover a host of concerns, from ground water issues to dust, along with noise and vegetative buffers, among others, according to county documents. The spirit of the permitting process is to address residents’ concerns that may not be addressed under Montana Department of Environmental Quality regulations.
One sticking point for nearly everyone involved is the issue of devalued property. Around a dozen people spoke during the public comment process, with the bulk of those expressing concerns over reduced land values. But no one really had a solid answer to the concern.
“I really don’t know anything that needs approval by the County Commission where there is always some sort of impact to neighboring property,” Commissioner Steve White said.
In the staff report, county planner Tom Rogers said house values decrease due to proximity of gravel pits, but the loss is temporary. And the regulations may shore up lost value.
“It is also important to note that many of the mitigation measures required in the conditions of approval related to (adverse effects) may help to alleviate impacts to property values if properly installed and maintained,” Rogers said.
The permit mandates a three-year review to determine if TMC is adhering to the rules. Violations at any time could result in the county pulling the permit.
As of yet, TMC, Inc., doesn’t have a permit from DEQ, reclamation specialist Jo Stephen said. The agency is currently working through the comments given on the draft Environmental Assessment to produce a final document used for the final ruling.
Even with a bevy of permits in hand, TMC general manager Jerry Rice said the company is going to have to pencil out the cost of all of the requirements to see if opening the Morgan pit is even worth it.
“Some of the conditions are stringent and are going to keep us on our toes,” he said. “It’s going to cost a considerable amount of money to adopt some of the conditions.”