No seat remained empty at the Anchor Point Senior Center last Thursday, Feb. 13 in anticipation of the Anchor Point Advisory Planning Commission meeting set to discuss the controversial Beachcomber LLC gravel pit. Meeting attendees largely included residents or neighbors of Danver Street, where the gravel pit is located, though others from the greater Anchor Point area were also present.
After extensive public comment, the advisory planning commission voted to recommend approval to modify a conditional land use permit for Beachcomber LLC. The recommendation is being forwarded to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission. The modification would expand the gravel pit on Danver Road.
Dawson Slaughter, chair of the Anchor Point Advisory Planning Commission, called the meeting to order shortly after 7 p.m. Other commission members in attendance were Brok Shafer, Jon Marsh, Chris Crum, vice chair Raymond Drake, secretary Donna White, and Chris Platter. Also present was planning commission liaison Bruce Wall from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Department.
The commission opened the floor to public commentary regarding Beachcomber LLC’s application to modify the conditional land use permit for the parcel where their gravel pit is located.
“I want to comment about the proposed extension of the Beachcomber LLC gravel pit,” said Gary Sheridan, who lives in the state recreation area near the pit location. “Here we are with the understanding that Beachcomber LLC has applied for another 11 acres to be added to this (existing) 27.7 acres. That’s nearly a third larger than what the original pit was to be.”
Sheridan cited past testimonies against the original gravel pit application, which was initially denied and then approved by the borough planning commission last year. He listed relevant concerns for adjacent homes, wetlands, and public recreational areas that may be exacerbated by an extension of the current pit.
“The heavy equipment operations in such a large pit and the … gravel trucks on the substandard Anchor River Road along one of the state’s most sought-after [recreational areas] should lead this committee to unanimously vote ‘no’ on the gravel pit extension,” Sheridan said. “When is enough, enough?”
Previously, Emmitt and Mary Trimble, owners of Beachcomber LLC, had stated that of the 40 acres on the Danver Street parcel, 27 acres were to be used to mine gravel and the oceanfront property would remain untouched as a “legacy property” for their daughters. According to several individuals giving testimony at the Feb. 13 meeting, the 11-acre extension that the Trimbles applied for includes this oceanfront legacy property.
“The applicant applied to mine all the way to the bluff,” said Hans Bilben, neighbor to the current gravel pit. “That would mean that the gravel excavation … would be below the high-water level at high tide. At some point in time … what this erosion might do is create a 40-acre saltwater slough. Most of us here, our wells draw off that aquifer.”
Bilben is part of a group of residents that has filed an appeal against the Danver pit, which is currently working its way through Alaska Superior Court.
“This was going to be the legacy property,” said Bilben, referring to the oceanfront parcels included in the extension application.
Wall offered some clarification regarding the permit’s modification in response to a question posed by another meeting attendant.
“This extraction would not allow (the applicant) to go all the way to the bluff because we require a 100-foot setback from water bodies,” Wall said. “… The nearest water body would be the floodplain associated with the Cook Inlet. That floodplain goes to the toe of the bluff, so he’d need to be 100 feet away from the toe of the bluff, which is basically 90 feet back from the top of the bluff.”
Wall also explained another purpose of Trimble’s permit application would “give him a more suitable process area … that is 300 feet away from the property lines.”
Attendees protested in response to this, citing that the current gravel pit is already permitted for a sufficient processing area.
“Two hundred people live within half a mile of this gravel pit,” said Teresa Jacobson Gregory, another neighbor of the Danver pit who had offered commentary during the meeting.
In response to requests from those in attendance, Slaughter called for a show of hands for those who were for or against the conditional land use permit. Five raised their hands in support, including the Trimbles. The majority of the rest of the room raised their hands in opposition.
One attendee asked Trimble directly if his reasons for the modified permit were related to the upcoming road construction projects this year.
“What I’m doing is applying for the permit,” Trimble said. “It doesn’t require me to do anything to operate.”
When asked by the commission if he had any further comments at that time, Trimble declined.
Public commentary closed and the commission moved on to further items in the agenda.
Slaughter opened up discussion among the commissioners regarding the permit modification.
Due to extensive feedback from meeting attendees and concerns held by some of the commissioners, a motion was made to table the commission’s decision whether or not to recommend the permit’s approval until more information could be gathered. The motion failed 4-2.
Based on the evidence that Beachcomber LLC meets current code requirements, a motion was made to recommend approval for the conditional land use permit. The motion passed 5-1.
The advisory planning commission’s recommendation will be passed on to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission, which will then either approve or deny the modification application of the conditional land use permit.
The KPB planning commission will meet next Monday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Soldotna.
A motion was also made by the advisory planning commission to submit public opinion heard at the Feb. 13 meeting to the borough planning commission to better inform their decision regarding the permit. The motion was approved and passed unanimously.