News

Gravel pit worries neighbors

A proposal to turn two chunks of land on Sawmill Road on North Whidbey into gravel pits has dug up concern from neighbors in the area.

Island County has teamed with Krieg Concrete Products to mine properties that border each other for gravel. The plans could mean that nearly 40 acres could turn into a working gravel pit.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the number of gravel pits on the north end of the island,” said Marcus Michael, who lives down the road from the properties. “This is not the quality of life we expected.”

Michael is among several area residents who have submitted comments to Island County in response to the proposal.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said that the plan is to have the pit available as a future resource for the county. They have applied with Krieg so that each would be able to utilize more of the property.

“This is a long-range resource,” Oakes said. “We’re not going to go up there and extract gravel next year.”

Karl Krieg, owner of Krieg Concrete Products, said that his plans for the site are a bit more immediate. The company could be pulling gravel out of the site less than a year after permits are granted, he said.

It is hard for the general public to understand why a pit must be developed where it is and not somewhere else, he said.

“But that isn’t how the gravel deposits were deposited by the glaciers,” Krieg said.

Under Island County Code, the county is allowed only to excavate the earth. Since the property is less than 20 acres in size, the county is prohibiting from processing the soil into gravel, Oakes said.

That is Krieg’s plan for the site as well. Excavators will remove the raw earth, and it will be processed at the main plant along Highway 20, Krieg said.

According to letters citizens have submitted to the county, a general concern is the protection of the area’s water supply. It is feared that the loss of soil to filter out contaminates would lead to pollution of the area’s aquifer.

Environmental concerns are also present. There is a category A wetland on the Krieg property, which means they are subject to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

Justin Craven, a Critical Areas Planner with the county, said that in Krieg’s application, the company has proposed 200-foot buffers around the wetland.

“I have more than set up adequate buffers,” Krieg said.

County Road Superintendent Jack Taylor said that the county needs the ability to produce its own gravel as a means to relieve some of the cost associated with trucking gravel onto the island.

“The bottom line here is that as the county continues to grow and these gravel pits continue to diminish,” Taylor said, “it ends up costing the taxpayer more and more.”

Island County operates a gravel pit on Henni Road. It excavates and processes earth to use for road projects on the north end of Whidbey. At the Coupeville, Bayview and Camano road shops, the county must purchase its gravel.

“It’s becoming harder and harder for agencies to find good resources for gravel,” Taylor said.

Michael said that he understands the county’s desire to keep costs low, but he said he is not sure if it justifies the degradation in the quality of life for people in the area.

In the area where the proposed pits are located, the speed limit is 50 miles per hour, coupled with sharp curves. Michael said he sees this as a safety issue.

“That’s a bad place to be pulling out a huge truck,” he said.

Oakes said that the county has studied the traffic scenarios in the area and did not identify any safety issues.

“We didn’t identify any safety issues on the expected haul routes,” Oakes said. “If we had thought there was a hazard, we would look at eliminating it.”

Another hazard the county is taking into consideration is the potential for a conflict of interest between the county and Krieg. Island County uses Krieg for construction projects, as well as for supplies such as gravel.

“There’s certainly the opportunity for the conflict of interest, but I don’t think one exists,” Oakes said.

Krieg described the ability to pull the veins of gravel from the earth as “the lifeblood of an operation like ours.”

Craven said that the Planning Department is still awaiting some follow-up information before it makes a final decision on the permits to allow the mining.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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Community Events, April 2014

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