Wednesday, August 15, 2007

County approves gravel extraction from Big Wood

Work will take place downstream from Glendale Bridge

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Commission approved an application Tuesday allowing Valley Paving to extract up to 40,000 cubic yards of gravel and cobble per year from a roughly half-mile stretch of the Big Wood River channel downstream from the Glendale Bridge.

Under the requirements set forth in the application, all gravel extraction work conducted by the Bellevue-based company must take place when the riverbed is dry, which happens on an annual basis once the whole of the river is diverted into an upstream bypass canal for irrigation.

Historical records cited by the county indicate that even before the river channel began being diverted during the summer months, the Big Wood River would run dry for a period of time in the porous area where the new gravel extraction project is proposed. The same area already has several other gravel extraction operations.

Under county ordinances, gravel removal and crushing operations are a permitted use in the area, which is zoned Floodplain District (FP), Heavy Industrial (HI) and Agricultural 20 (A-20).

The two-year permit approved by the commission on Tuesday allows work on a site approximately 2,500 linear feet in length, 200 feet in width and 9 to 10 feet in depth. The operator would be limited to digging no deeper than the clay level that underlies the gravel portion of the riverbed.

Still, that doesn't mean it will actually dig that deeply, said Burt Heath, division manager for Lakeside Industries, the parent company of Valley Paving. In reality, the 40,000 cubic yards of gravel and cobble the permit allows Valley Paving to extract annually is only equal to 1.5 feet of material removed from across the entire project area, Heath said.

Under their approval of the application, the commissioners chose to restrict gravel extraction and hauling work to the weekdays and the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. out of concern for nearby neighbors.

"Sound does travel," Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael said.

The commissioners stipulated that no gravel extraction may take place in the area 150 yards downstream from the Glendale Bridge. Valley Paving has also agreed to institute a weed abatement plan and will not fuel, repair or maintain any of its gravel extraction equipment within the river channel. The company's equipment must also be removed from the area during the winter.

One potential benefit of the gravel removal is the likelihood that it will extend the serviceable lifespan of the Glendale Bridge, Heath said. He said that in past years county road crews removed gravel from the same area, which in turn helped reduce the accumulation of gravel next to the bridge.

Corroborating that statement was Blaine County Road and Bridge Superintendent Dale Shappee. During the 1980s, the county removed up to 15,000 cubic feet of gravel downstream from the bridge, Shappee said.

"It did help lower the level above the bridge," he said.

While saying he has no definitive proof, Shappee said he believes the area below the Glendale Bridge has been steadily rising throughout the past few decades.

Allowing Valley Paving to proceed with its work won't fully correct the problem, but it will "prolong the time until we have to replace the (Glendale) bridge," he said.

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