SEELEY LAKE – The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) is proposing to open a temporary gravel pit and asphalt plant near Elbow Lake and adjacent to Highway 83 close to mile marker three. They are soliciting public input until March 1 on whether to authorize this proposed gravel pit development and use in compliance with the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).
The DNRC-managed land is located east of Elbow Lake (for the exact legal description, see legal notice on page 15). DNRC was approached by Frank Tabish of LHC, Inc. to develop the temporary gravel pit for the repaving project this summer on Highway 83 from mile marker 16 to 32. This is another source of gravel for LHC Inc. with the other being the proposed Cottonwood Lake Gravel Pit. LHC Inc. is the only contractor that has approached DNRC for use of this land.
DNRC Clearwater Unit Manager Kristen Baker-Dickinson said the area was tested in 2004 for another repaving project. While the area was never used, Baker-Dickinson said that Tabish felt confident in the quality of the source.
The proposed pit would excavate, remove and crush approximately 50,000 tons of gravel on five acres of DNRC-managed lands over a three-to six-month period. DNRC estimates a 10-foot reduction in elevation of the pit. The area will be reclaimed post project.
“It would be a very high intensity but short duration use,” said Baker-Dickinson.
Baker-Dickinson said DNRC is entertaining the proposal because it fills the need for major infrastructure improvement.
“There is not a lot of good quality rock along Highway 83 to use for these major infrastructure projects,” said Baker-Dickinson.
LHC Inc. is required to obtain an aggregate permit through DNRC and will pay royalties on a per ton basis. Since the land is held in trust for the Pine Hills Reform School, the revenue generated would go towards the reform school, one of the smaller trusts managed by DNRC.
“We like to see good projects on the smaller trusts and we do find ourselves proposing those from time to time,” said Baker-Dickinson. She explained that proportionally the smaller trusts receive a much larger bump than the Common School Trust Lands with these projects.
The pit would be accessed from the existing road at mile marker three. A temporary spur road would be built for direct access to the pit. Baker-Dickinson understands that the majority of the hauling would occur during a 16-day window.
Baker-Dickinson said DNRC chose to conduct a separate MEPA analysis in addition to Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requirements because she was concerned with impacts to other resources including the cabin sites, adjacent landowners and wildlife concerns. Once complete this analysis will be available at http://dnrc.mt.gov/public-interest/environmental-docs
“I’m trying to quantify the potential effects of everything from vegetation to wildlife to air quality and other social concerns such as traffic, safety and noise and explain what those potential impacts will be, ” said Baker-Dickinson. “It is the finding of significant impact or not that would drive whether more analysis is needed. We do try to ensure that we are being very transparent and that we are catching everything in terms of what could be affected by a proposed action so we can quantify those effects to the environment.”
DNRC will also submit an application with DEQ. Once the application is complete, it will be posted at deq.mt.gov/land/opencut. This is the same process as outlined for the Cottonwood Lakes Pit in the continuation of the “Powell County Approves Cottonwood Lakes Gravel Pit” article on page 3.
While Baker-Dickinson does not intend on holding a public hearing at this time, if DEQ hosts a meeting she said she will attend.
For further information on this proposed project or to provide public comment, please contact Kristen Baker-Dickinson by emailing email@example.com, calling 406-244-2381 or write DNRC Kristen Baker-Dickinson Clearwater State Forest 48455 S. Sperry Grade Road Greenough, MT 59823. The deadline for comment is March 1.