Planning commission denies gravel pit code change
SANDPOINT – The Bonner County Planning Commission has recommended denial of a request for a code change that applies only to existing gravel pits in the county.
A packed audience of mostly members of local land use groups and gravel industry workers watched as the commission recommended denying the requested change to the county’s land use code. The proposed change would allow gravel pits to extract resources within parcel boundaries while adhering to agreements with the Idaho Department of Lands without having to first obtain additional permits from the county.
Title 12 of the Bonner County Code deals with land use regulations in the county. The 200-plus-page document functions as the final word on what can and cannot be built in the county.
The three-hour meeting saw heated testimony for and against the request, with commissioners deliberating and asking questions for nearly an hour.
The meeting boiled down to definitions of terms and philosophical questions about what was considered an appropriate use for mines that extract resources.
Although the courts in Idaho have yet to rule on the doctrine of diminished assets. The doctrine applies specifically to the sand, gravel and rock extraction industries. The doctrine asserts that the extraction of a resource is a right of the owner and is considered a lawful use – even if it does not match the land use in the surrounding area. As long as the mining activity remains within the boundaries of the plot, the mine is permitted to develop within these boundaries without the need to obtain additional permits.
Some states have come out in favor of the doctrine, others have not.
Mines must agree to a reclamation plan before they can begin operations. A reclamation plan is a document between the mine owner and the Idaho Department of Lands detailing what the land looked like before mining and what the intended use of the land will be after mining. finished. Other factors such as timing, size, scale and impacts on surrounding natural resources are also considered in these documents.
The request submitted by members of the Linscott and Peak families, owners of local gravel pits, said refusing the request would deprive them of their right to develop the resources on their land – even going so far as to say it would violate Idaho Eminent domain clause in the Constitution.
Evidence for and against the proposal was divided.
The four who spoke out in favor of the code change, including local gravel pit owners, said the materials generated by their industry have enriched the county with resources and generated revenue.
“We produce approximately 500,000 tonnes of material per year from these eight sources. That’s 33,000 truckloads, you couldn’t walk that pile in a week. I’m trying to tell you what the required demand is for these natural resources in Bonner County. We must have the ability to expand those sources, or, we transport them to Coeur d’Alene. But people are going to have to foot the bill, I think that’s the alternative we’re facing here,” said Brian Wood, owner of Wood’s Crushing and Hauling. “We’re trying to create an easier path to keep these sources running.”
The four people who spoke out against the change argued that the code change was unnecessary. Others chose to specifically call out Linscott’s gravel pit, saying they had broken the laws in their previous mining operations.
“The elephant in the room, that’s it [Linscott Sand and Gravel] are today’s candidates and pay a planner and a lawyer and we can’t just dismiss that. I would like to repeat that there are pits which have been and are currently being exploited legally. Where is the necessity if there are pits that have not been non-compliant? Continuing to try to adapt the code to make a grossly enlarged pit legal is vexatious planning at best,” Reg Crawford said. “While some code clarification may be needed, there is no need for this application to be written so far. … Referring to this app as simply housekeeping is insulting to Compliant Pits, and this commission.
After public comment closed, project representatives, members of the planning commission, assistant attorney Bill Wilson and director of planning Milton Ollerton discussed the specific nature of the change and the legal issues it was up to. the commission to decide.
“What we really need is to find a happy medium,” Commissioner Josh Pilch said. “No scenario is going to be perfect for everyone. We have to do the right thing for the community. And we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, so let’s draw a line in the sand. We have to vote on this thing and go forward.
Wilson asked the commission to clarify what the definition of “expansion” meant to her in her recommendation to the board of commissioners.
“We fight against uncertainty. The doctrine of diminishing assets has not even been addressed in the state of Idaho. So we’re being asked now, basically, whether or not we want to acknowledge it, or whether we don’t,” Wilson said. “It also forces us to look at what you consider expansion. The reason why there are many different persuasive authorities, Washington State being one of them, as recognizing this doctrine. Other states have gone the other way for other reasons that the planning department has discussed.
Wilson said the problem is rooted in an almost philosophical notion of what it means to grow.
“If an old non-compliant gravel pit removed a thousand meters of material from the ground in 2007, and they did the same thing the following year, and the following year after the law change, is that considered an expansion? ? Reasonable minds may disagree on this.
Commissioners discussed many topics during their half-hour deliberation. Commissioner Dave Frankenbach asked if the expansion of a gravel pit to include an asphalt plant was considered a grandfathered use. Other commissioners have speculated what the county’s role might be when it comes to working with IDL on reclamation plans.
In the end, the commission reached a split decision recommending the denial of the code change. Pilch was the only member to vote against the refusal. Commissioners Brian Bailey and Wayne Benner recused themselves from voting on the matter, citing a conflict of interest.
The case will be submitted to the Board of County Commissioners for final decision; however, a meeting date has yet to be determined.
To read the Bonner County code, go to codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/bonnercountyid. Specifically, Title 12 can be found by going to the left column and selecting “Title 12 Land Use Regulations”.
The county posts all upcoming meetings on its website and physically in the lobby of the Administration Building located at 1500 US 2. For those who wish to provide feedback to county officials on AM0004-22, or read related materials, appointment BonnerCountyID.gov.