City Gravel Pit Expansion Approved by City-County Air Pollution Control Board

by jhwygirl

On neither the county nor the city website could I find a “Missoula City-County Air Pollution Control Board,” but in last Thursday’s paper, tucked away in the legal notices on page C8 was this notice:

On December 18, 2008 at 12:15 p.m., the Missoula City-County Air Pollution Control Board will hold a public hearing concerning the Department’s decision to issue an air quality permit to T&T Contracting for a gravel crusher operation at the Monroe Pit near River Road and Reserve Street, Missoula County (at Section 17 Township 13N, Range 19W.) The hearing will be held in teh second floor conference room at 301 West Alder. Public comment will be accepted by the Board at the hearing. Interested persons may also submit written comments to the Board on or before December 16, 2008 at 301 W Alder St., Missoula, MT 59802 or by emailing Bob Schmidt at schmidth@ho.missoula.mt.us. A copy of the permit, administrative hearing proceedings and the department’s responses to public comment is available by contacting the Environmental Health Division, 258-4755 and at http://www.co.missoula.mt.us/EnvHealth.

The pit is located in a county inholding – an island of county-zoned land, surrounded by city zoned land. The city can’t annex industrial or agricultural land, so the operation – despite it’s affects on the surrounding residential neighbornood – isn’t subject to city laws.

There are currently no gravel crushing operations at the site – but this newly issued permit will allow one to operate. It will also add electrical generators. T&T is a new business that will be operating there.

Neighbors in the River Road neighborhood where the pit is located have dealt with numerous health issues for years. Overwhelming dust, trucks running 24/7. They’ve witnessed violations of heavy equipment incursions into the river. Pages 3 and 4 of the minutes from a previously held meeting detail the conundrums presented by this county inholding and its status in state law. Jim Carlson sums it up here:

The state of Montana does provide for public nuisance type lawsuits and individual lawsuits, even though the government may not be able to be involved in those. That’s something that you may want to talk to your own attorney’s about. I’m just trying to give an overview of the fact that there isn’t a holistic permitting process. I think we’re one of the only permits that provides for the ability to have public review and public comment on the permit. It’s unfortunate but this is the way it is. To that extent, you know, it’s important that you comment to your legislature that you would like to see some things changed. Certainly with regard to noise ordinances, that may be something that could be accomplished in this upcoming session.

Frankly, this pit is a nuisance on the mere existence of it and the danger it faces to the whole community. This past year’s high water event – nothing compared to what the Clark Fork will will eventually bring to town – threatened to capture this very gravel operation and make an end run around the Reserve Street Clark Fork bridge.

Think traffic is bad now?

Imagine the City severed by no Reserve Street bridge? Imagine the emergency issues…the traffic.

Consider this: This past year’s high water event really wasn’t atypical. Talk to old timers and they’ll tell you. And water came darned close to capturing that operation as it was.

That operation down there is not only a nuisance to the neighborhood, it’s a nuisance to MDOT, to the State of Montana. Think of the astronomical cost it would present should that bridge be effectively castrated. It’s a nuisance to the City, to the County and the taxpayers of the entire state.

Think of how communities around the state will feel when highway funds are redirected to build Missoula a new bridge when a major state highway – perhaps the state’s busiest? – is severed because of gravel pit next to the river where everyone with any common sense knew that the darned thing would be captured by a high water event one day.

So while the Director of Environmental Health Jim Carlson says that “The state of Montana does provide for public nuisance type lawsuits and individual lawsuits, even though the government may not be able to be involved in those,” I think he is slightly wrong there.

While I’m being critical here of Carlson’s statement, when you read through the minutes, it seems apparent to me that there is a certain level of frustration coming from the City-County Health Department with regards to the operations located there adjacent to the river.

I point out that this bridge is a nuisance because:
#1 – this neighborhood needs help.
#2 – this nuisance is more than just a neighborhood issue
#3 – waiting for the inevitable – the river will eventually capture this pit and make an end run around the bridge – is ridiculously foolish and cost.

Yee gads, someone: Do something before we’re without a bridge and stuck holding a multi-million dollar years long cluster of a mess to fix.

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  1. Ed Childers

    Good Morning.
    Air Pollution Control and Water Quality District Boards meet with and are comprised of the Missoula City-County Health Board.
    Meeting agendas and minutes can be found on the City’s website at
    http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/mayor/Agendas_Minutes.htm#Agendas

  2. This is a off-topic, but very on-issue, and I have to bring it up because of the DEQ-Gravel pit issue:

    I’ve read rumor on other blogs, and heard from a couple people that Ryan Zinke (R-CFalls) the Navy Seal future gubernatorial candidate who recently beat Brittany Maclean for SD-2, is either part owner, or family owner of Knife River Construction, who obviously has a huge stake in the gravel pit issue in the Flathead.

    Is this a guy who will want the DEQ to step-in and do its job? Or someone who wants to keep the money coming in in droves?

    Anyone know anything about this? (Sorry it’s not Missoula specific jhwy girl, just thought it deserved discussion if anyone knows about it.)

  3. Just a note – I’m on the neighborhood council in Emma Dickinson and am just starting to come up to speed on this. At this point, here’s what I know: http://emmadickinson.org/2008/12/something-in-air.html

    If you could encourage people to attend the hearing tomorrow, that would be great.

    Christian

  4. JC

    Note to state legislators: gravel pits in the county that are wholly or mostly surrounded by city land should not be permitted.

    And after looking at the aerial on the Emma Dickinson web site (thanks Christian!) it becomes readily apparent the danger that the river poses to the pond there and to the Reserve Street bridge.

    I remember when we had the big kerfuffle–when the city annexed the 5 acre parcel of land over on Wyoming Street in about 2002 (I lived right across from it at the time) that turned a cow pasture (which would have made a great park) into a major condo project–over parks in the Russell-Reserve-River-3rd district.

    It was acknowledged that when the permits for industrial uses at the gravel pits/ponds expired that the City/County would try to get control of the area and start rehabbing it. For both use as parks and waterfront, and as a safety necessity for the river and bridge. Of course, the revisionist historians at City/County will come and tell us that just isn’t true. But I had meetings with city staff on site where those assertions were made.

    My, how quickly the City and County forget these priorities when noisy/concerned neighborhood residents get moved out of a district due to development. I guess that’s one way to avoid dissent.

  5. great post. thanks j-girl. and christian thanks for the link to your site. question for the city county folks: why is this important meeting scheduled for work hours instead of evening hours so regular folks with jobs can attend and testify? seems like we have a dam going out a few miles to the east to restore the clark fork river to excellent trout and float people habitat and then this site which threatens to ruin the whole thing. seems like more publicity and a better time would bring more citizen’s interested in the future of the clark fork together to talk about this before anything stupid is done.

  6. To clarify – the Health Dept. has already issued the permit. This has been in the works for months, and they’ve taken public testimony and held public meetings. They are going one step further, and having a meeting to discuss the issuance of the permit.

    This page gives the history of the project.

    Read through all of that and you may get the same sense I did – that there is a level of frustration from within the County Health Department as well over this gravel pit and state law, etc.

    Now, the time of the hearing, yes, does seem not conducive to serving the public – especially when you consider the real working class nature of that neighborhood.

    I do believe criticism of this pit, in particular, as a public nuisance – public in the sense of not just the neighborhood, but state-wide, is valid. This neighborhood should have the help of MDOT and the County and the City on this one. Public safety and public tax dollars are at huge risk here.

    Among other things.

  7. This a great post. Thank you for everything you are doing guys. Its good to know that somebody is trying to make a difference.
    Thanks!!!




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