Borough approves two gravel pits, denies one

With the Kenai Peninsula Borough postponing efforts to rewrite its rules on the contentious subject of gravel pits, the Planning Commission approved two gravel pit permits and denied one at its Monday meeting.

The denied application, the most controversial of the three, would have allowed about 27.7 acres of excavation between Anchor Point’s main public beach access road to the north and neighborhoods on Kyllonen Drive, Echo Drive and Seaward Drive to the south.

That permit failed on a 3-6 vote. Emmitt Trimble, whose family has developed and sold property in Anchor Point since the mid-1970s, manages Beachcomber LLC, the company which would own the denied gravel pit. He said he plans to appeal the decision.

“(The Planning Commission) passed the buck to the Board of Adjustment,” Trimble said.

The borough is in the midst of a discussion to rewrite its gravel pit regulations. At its Jan. 16, 2018 meeting, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly created an eight-member work group to examine the Borough’s gravel pit regulations. The group was set to recommend changes to the assembly on June 5, but in May requested more time to consider public testimony and potential changes. The assembly unanimously agreed, extending the deadline to May 14, 2019 and allowing the group to suspend meetings until Sept. 30.

At least one of Monday’s gravel pit applicants was responding to the potential code change. Walter Blauvelt applied for a permit to dig to the east of a former gravel pit used in the 1980s, eventually continuing excavation on the other side of the property’s anadromous stream if demand warrants it and gravel is found there. Planning commissioner Cindy Ecklund asked Blauvet if he’d consider work only on the near side of the stream and seek a future permit for the rest. He declined.

“I believe that the borough is going to make things a lot more difficult in the future for applicants such as myself to obtain such permitting, so that’s why I’m trying to permit this property all at once,” he said.

Blauvet’s application for digging on both sides of the stream was approved with opposing votes from planning commissioners Franco Venuti and Syverine Bentz. The other approved gravel pit permit was awarded to Peninsula Paving, which will excavate in the Kalifornsky Beach area near an existing excavation owned by Davis Block on Ravenwood Street.

As for the Beachcomber pit, neighbors in opposition brought up concerns about views, noise, dust, and property values. Other concerns that opponents raised in Monday’s meeting include the truck traffic it would bring to Anchor Point Road and historic sites that lie within the property that would be excavated.

Campers, beach-goers, and boats launching into Cook Inlet from Anchor Point travel Anchor Point Road, which leads from the Old Sterling Highway to the mouth of the Anchor River, where the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation maintains the Anchor River State Recreation Area and its five campgrounds, and where boats are launched by tractor into the inlet.

Many of Monday’s commenters said more truck traffic on Anchor Point Road, which they described as narrow and winding, would likely lead to accidents and a loss of tourism dollars.

The gravel pit location also contains two reported historic sites, according to a letter from the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office to gravel pit opponent Jeanne Bilben, who presented the letter to the Planning Commission. One site contains two house pits, and the other possible cache pits and historic graves.

Trimble said most of the concerns were emotionally driven and ignored the value of gravel extracted from past excavations in the area.

“All of those people have those homes because Buzz Kyllonen took a small pit that built all of those roads and all those driveways, and provided the gravel for almost all of those people up there, or those properties wouldn’t be up there now to be concerned,” he said.

In their staff report, administrators in the borough Planning Department recommended approving the permit based on six conditions of the Borough gravel pit code, which include minimizing off-site dust, noise, and visual impact. Though the pit would sit in a low-lying area with many homes above it to the southeast, Beachcomber LLC planned to surround it with six-foot tall berms to block the noise and view, as well as two 50-foot buffers of wooded land. Trimble said he’d counted five homes that could have had a view into the pit, though pit opponents said there were many more with views that couldn’t be blocked with berms with buffers.

Borough Planner Bruce Wall said the pit could meet the condition if additional buffers were added. He recommended postponing a vote on the permit until the commission’s next meeting on Aug. 13 to allow time for commissioners to read submitted comments. The commissioners voted 5-4 against postponement.

Most of the commissioners who voted to deny the permit said that it would not meet the noise and visual impact conditions even with additional buffers.

“In our staff report it says the proposed extraction meets the material site standards for 21.29, minimizing the noise disturbance from other properties, but I don’t agree with that,” said Bentz, who voted against the permit. “I don’t think these conditions will minimize noise from other properties, and the conditions won’t minimize visual impact, either.”

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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