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For the week of Apr. 19 through Apr. 25, 2000

Ohio Gulch gravel gripe

"We are willing to work with the county, but we’re not willing to have the county say we can’t do something. We are interested in mining the material."

Stanley Hamilton, department of lands director

Express Staff Writer

As much as 65 acres of sand and gravel in Ohio Gulch could be mined to a depth of 18 feet, garnering Idaho’s schools $2.25 million over the next 10 years.

Those figures are contained in an Idaho State Land Board interdepartmental memo.

The land board proposes to lease two portions of its square mile of Ohio Gulch to the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and private contractors, partially in conjunction with state Highway 75 expansion.

But the Blaine County Commission and a group of Ohio Gulch homeowners are challenging the land board’s authority to do as it sees fit with state school endowment land in Ohio Gulch.

County zoning does not permit such uses in the Ohio Gulch area. Mining in one of two zones there would be allowed only as a conditional use.

"We are willing to work with the county, but we’re not willing to have the county say we can’t do something," department of lands director Stanley Hamilton said in a recent interview. "We are interested in mining the material."

According to an attorney general’s opinion cited in the Idaho Code, "The land board is not bound by the terms of the Local Planning Act and is not required to abide by county zoning ordinances."

Ketchum attorney Ned Williamson said in an interview Monday that the land board’s authority over state land, in respect to county zoning, has never been tested in Idaho’s appellate courts. Williamson is representing a group of Ohio Gulch area homeowners called the Mid-Valley Owners’ Association. The group was formed primarily to address the legality and impacts of the proposed gravel mining.

The association "supports the construction of a safe highway system in Blaine County, but believes the state and all local contractors who will be excavating gravel or storing fill material should be required, like any other citizen, to seek and obtain a conditional use permit in a public forum," Williamson wrote in a Monday press release.

"We have been assured that the county will insist upon compliance with the local zoning ordinance."

Though the county commissioners did not return the Idaho Mountain Express’s phone calls yesterday, they have publicly expressed concern over the state’s plans and an intention to maintain the current zoning.

Such local concerns will likely rub the land board the wrong way.

In a Jan. 19 letter to the Blaine County Commissioners, Hamilton concluded, "…please consider this letter as the board’s direction to remove zoning…from endowment lands in Blaine County.

"We hope for a quick resolution to the planning and zoning issues in Ohio Gulch and we would like to move forward with lease issuance as soon as the zoning issues are resolved."

According to the department of lands interdepartmental memo, dated Dec. 14, "General operating plans will remove the gravel to nearly the same elevation as the adjacent [Ohio Gulch Road] and provide a suitable site for future development, which could include light industrial uses, commercial uses or residential lots."

If gravel excavation goes ahead as planned, it won’t be the first time in Ohio Gulch. In fact, an existing lease would continue if Blaine County’s intervention ceases or when a cooperative agreement is reached.

In December 1998, the land board issued a 10-year mineral lease to local contractor McStay Construction to operate a commercial sand and gravel pit in Ohio Gulch.

On Sept. 28, 1999, Blaine County issued a stop work order to McStay Construction to stop gravel excavation in Ohio Gulch because the use does not conform to the area’s zoning.

McStay Construction removed approximately 60,000 cubic yards of gravel from the site before the county issued the stop work order. About 400 cubic yards of that material were used in the Triumph Mine remediation process.

As much as 100,000 cubic yards may be needed from the Idaho Transportation Department’s gravel deposit in 2000 to satisfy highway construction needs, the land board estimates.


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