By Andi Bourne

Cottonwood Lakes Gravel Pit Approved with Conditions


SEELEY LAKE – The Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the proposed gravel pit on Cottonwood Lakes Road received zoning approval with conditions at the Feb. 9 Powell County Planning Board meeting. According to Powell County Planner Carl Hamming, the approval was unanimous and the conditions are still being finalized.

The Birdhead Company, LLC purchased the quarter section four miles east of Highway 83 and south of Cottonwood Lakes Road this past October. The intent was to develop the property for sand and gravel operation.

Frank Tabish of LHC Inc. in Kalispell, Mont. applied for the CUP with Powell County to establish and operate a 26.5-acre gravel pit within the 160-acre property and allow for a temporary asphalt plant. Gary Lewis, owner of Deer Creek Aggregates, will lease the pit after it has been developed.

Hamming said the planning board had a two-hour discussion about the proposal. He said they “gave it a good hard look” and discussed at length the verbiage and how it could be interpreted.

One of the conditions addressed the hours of operation. The CUP’s plan of operation listed hours of operation as Monday-Saturday 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. for all activities including crushing, hauling, loading, maintenance, mining and others not specified. Sundays will only include hauling, loading and maintenance from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.


The planning board approved the hours of operation from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday –Friday and 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturdays when the asphalt plant is in operation.

A group of Double Arrow landowners in opposition to the pit argued that the planning board had to recognize the Missoula County Zoning Resolution (that states mining, sand and gravel extraction is not permitted in a residential zoning district) because Montana Code Annotated 76-2-203 states zoning regulation must be made compatible with zoning regulations of nearby municipalities. Their argument was dismissed because although Double Arrow is a residential subdivision, it is not zoned and therefore state law does not apply.

According to Hamming, the planning board felt the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approval process would address the environmental concerns that were raised during the comment period. The U.S. Forest Service road permitting process would address the safety and maintenance issues raised on Cottonwood Lakes Road. Those decisions were determined to be out of the jurisdiction of the planning board.

LHC Inc.’s next steps include applying for a road permit with the Seeley Lake Ranger District, Lolo National Forest and applying for a permit with DEQ.

Per state law (MCA 82-4-432) once DEQ receives the application they have five days to review the application. Once they determine the application is complete, the application will be posted at The application will be publically noticed for two weeks in a newspaper of general circulation and residents within half mile of the boundary of the proposed gravel pit will receive a letter that the application is available.

If at least 30 percent of the property owners or 10 property owners, whichever is greater, request a public meeting, DEQ will hold a meeting within 30 days. Landowners within half mile of the proposed pit will receive a letter and local media will be notified.

According to DEQ Coal and Open Cut Mining Bureau Chief Ed Coleman, the purpose of the meeting is for the public to provide substantive comment relating to inconsistencies or information not addressed in the application so DEQ can make sure the application addresses those concerns.

“We want good ground water information or wildlife information or some kind of substantial kind of environmental information that would help us more appropriately review the information,” said Coleman.

Public comment will be accepted throughout the whole process once the application is available and noticed. Submit comments to or mail to Montana Department of Environmental Quality Coal & Opencut Mining Bureau, PO Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620.


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