Gravel-pit expansion proposed in West Valley

November 30, 2018

Owners of a gravel pit in the West Valley have submitted a proposal to amend their current mining permit, requesting the company be allowed to operate 80 acres at a time, up from its current 40 acres.

Schellinger Construction Co. submitted the proposal to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which is expected to respond by Dec. 10., either approving or denying the plan or suggesting changes be made.

“The material taken from this site will be used to supply aggregate for the increasing infrastructure needs of the Flathead Valley,” Schellinger Operations Manager Rob Koelzer said in a letter sent to nearby landowners.

When Schellinger Construction first received its conditional-use permit from Flathead County in 2007, the company was granted up to a 320-acre site and was allowed to have up to 80 acres in operation at one time.

Now, the company is requesting to double its current operating acres located at 3427 Farm to Market Road, which would place the site at its maximum operating acreage allowed by the permit.

The gravel operation sparked controversy when it first began in 2007. Over the years, nearby landowners, environmentalists and others have expressed concerns over increased traffic, noise levels and potential pollution.

One local landowner expressed concerns over the proposed amendment, saying the increase in operations likely would lead to more noise, vibrations from equipment and gravel trucks.

However, Koelzer said the company anticipates very little to no fluctuation in operating issues that have expressed by the community, should the amendment be granted.

“We’ve been through the ringer with this,” Koelzer said. “All the issues that were brought up were addressed. This has been going on for a long time.”

Because Schellinger Construction believes all public concerns regarding the pit have been addressed, the company has submitted an application to decline a public meeting on the matter.

“We always try to be respectful of the land we are working on and how our operations may affect nearby neighbors,” Koelzer said in his letter.

The company was required to send the letter to residents within a half-mile radius of the operating site as part of Schellinger Construction’s application to decline a public meeting. Along with the letter, deemed an “unofficial courtesy letter,” was a copy of the proposed amendment and forms allowing landowners to decline or request a public meeting.

Any operator looking to increasing its permitted acreage by 50 percent or more can submit an application. The Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting if 30 percent of landowners within the half-mile radius submit the request form to do so. Several West Valley residents believe there should be a meeting, considering the pit has a history of controversy.

“I think it’s a lack of transparency and accessibility for the people that live out there,” said Tom Clark, a West Valley resident who recently ran for Flathead County commissioner as a Democrat but lost the election. Clark referenced the good neighbor policy and Golden Rule, saying these should both be considered by Schellinger Construction.

But Flathead County Commissioner Gary Krueger, also a West Valley resident, said otherwise.

“I don’t think it’s a public issue or will change public safety or the water quality or the air quality in the area or the transportation in the area,” Krueger said. “Should we have a public meeting every year to say they are going to put a pile here? It was part of the original mining plan and it’s just going through the process.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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