In a split vote, the Belgrade City-County Planning Board voted Monday to recommend that the Gallatin County Commission impose emergency interim zoning to halt several new gravel pits south of Belgrade.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the council chambers at Belgrade City Hall for a public hearing on the issue, giving more than two-and-a-half hours of testimony to the board.
Most participants encouraging board members to vote in favor of zoning.
“Would you choose to live by (gravel pits) if they were proposed?” area resident Karen Simero asked, adding that she bought a home in the area in December, and it wasn’t disclosed to her that gravel pits were proposed.
But Tim Gail, an employee of one of the pit developers, said gravel mining is part of the valley’s economy.
“A lot of people depend on these pits,” he said. “I live here, I work here, I shop here,” referring to the hearing as “it’s-not-in-my-back-yard night.”
While the proposed pits along Alaska South and East Cameron Bridge roads are in the Belgrade planning jurisdiction, Gallatin County commissioners have the ultimate say in the matter.
The issue went before the board as a matter of law, but the move also gives the commission an idea of the city’s feelings on the matter, County Commissioner Bill Murdock said earlier Monday.
“Belgrade’s board is advisory only but nevertheless it has to go to them first,” he said.
Dozens of people, including two state legislators — Sen. Gary Perry, R-Manhattan, and Rep. John Sinrud, R-Bozeman — provided an almost unified front, citing diminished property values, air and water quality issues and increased traffic problems topping the lists.
Including Gail, area residents spoke against the measure.
According to Jo Stephan, a reclamation specialist with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the permitting agency, two gravel permit applications are sitting on her desk.
One is Spanish Peaks, which proposes to mine 5.8 million cubic yards of gravel from the northeast corner of Cameron Bridge and South Alaska roads.
The other is Cameron Springs, on the southwest corner of the same intersection, which proposes to mine 1.95 million cubic yards, she said.
A third pit, Cameron Creek, has been rumored but has not yet applied for a permit, she said.
Knife River has a permit to mine gravel north of the other two pits.
Last year, 2.67 million cubic yards of gravel were mined in Gallatin County, Stephan said.
In the end, the board voted 4-2 in favor of emergency interim zoning request, with members Mike Marx and John Youngberg voting against.
Even though the majority ruled in favor, board members struggled with zoning boundary issues and the fact that Knife River, formerly JTL, is already mining gravel adjacent to the proposed pits.
“Where is this ideal place that’s waiting to be a gravel pit?” Marc Halgren said before the vote. “Where is an appropriate place where roads are already wide and there’s gravel to mine? Knife River is already permitted adjacent to that.”
Nonetheless, Halgren cast his vote in favor of zoning.
Other board members pointed out that the Belgrade Growth Policy calls for high density residential development around the city, and that the area in question will be part of Belgrade’s city limits in the future.
“JTL is already out there, but to me, putting more gravel pits out there would be adding to the problem and not to the solution,” Kevin Lucas said.
The Belgrade Planning Department will send a letter regarding the ruling to the county later this week, associate planner Heidi Jensen said. And that letter may sway at least one commissioner, Murdock said in an interview Monday afternoon.
If the board ruled favorably toward zoning, Murdock said he would look into installing measures like the newly drafted “good neighbor” policy or some other type of measures.
“If I see that kind of response, I’m going there,” he said.
Commissioners last fall rejected a bid by residents along Highline Road and Gallatin Gateway to impose interim zoning to stop new and expanding pits in those two areas. But Cameron Bridge and Alaska Road residents live in an area with a different flavor, Murdock said. The Belgrade doughnut has long been master planned and is in the preliminary zoning stages.
“We are already talking about zoning there,” he said.
However, the situation is far from being over, Belgrade Planner Jason Karp said. Last night’s public hearing is just the first step and will be one of many in the months to come.
“This won’t be the final say on anything,” he said.