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SHERIDAN — By a 2-1 vote, the Sheridan County Planning and Zoning Commission decided to recommend denial of a quarry proposed to be located near Bird Farm Road less than one mile west of the intersection with U.S. Highway 87 near Banner.
The Board of County Commissioners will consider the Rhiner Creek Quarry at its regular meeting July 1. The BOCC decision will ultimately decide if the quarry will be allowed.
Commissioners Jeremy Smith and Steve Noecker were unable to attend the meeting. Commissioners Audrey Brown and Bernie Bornong voted against the quarry. Commissioner Mike Schumacher voted to recommend approval.
The commissioners’ board room was packed Thursday with nearby residents, the quarry applicants and lawyers who had been retained to represent both sides of the issue. Approximately 40 people were present.
Most of the nearby residents spoke against the quarry, but one adjacent neighbor did speak in favor.
County Planner Mark Reid said 12 residences were within one-half mile of the proposed quarry location, with the nearest neighbor being approximately 1,300 feet away. He said the applicants met the minimum requirements for the permit but gave no staff recommendation to either approve or deny. He suggested six conditions if the quarry was approved.
The Rhiner Creek Quarry was originally proposed March 6. The County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend denial of the quarry permit at that time. The permit request was then withdrawn by applicants Hans and Martha Hilleby to allow time to review similar quarries in the county and to address the concerns expressed by neighboring landowners.
The original permit requested a 20-year permit license to mine, screen, crush and haul gravel and sand within a 156-acre area straddling Rhiner Creek, which feeds into Meade Creek. It was noted that only 10 acres would be mined at a time, but that the 156 acres was requested since it was not known where good rock would be found.
Attorney Nick Haderlie of Throne Law Office in Sheridan spoke on behalf of the applicants. He opened his remarks by listing the changes that had been made in the application to address a variety of concerns about the quarry. These included reducing the quarry from 156 acres to 5 acres, reducing the permit term from 20 years to eight, reducing the number of nearby residences from 19 to 12, limiting operation hours and directing all gravel haul truck traffic toward U.S. Highway 87 rather than down Bird Farm Road since residents were concerned about truck traffic on the narrow, winding road.
Haderlie also noted that lights would be angled or shielded and should not be seen, if used at all. He said he spoke with Sheridan County School District 1 about bus traffic and also discussed wildlife and water quality concerns with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The second proposed quarry would not straddle Rhiner Creek and would be set back at least 50 feet from the creek’s edge, rather than the originally proposed 20 feet.
Haderlie said a comparison of similarly sized quarries in the county indicated that seven out of eight similar quarries were located on agricultural land, and that the JC Ranch Quarry has 11 residences nearby. He said reclamation of the land after mining would improve its condition and use as a hayfield.
“We truly believe this is the most comprehensive quarry permit with the most voluntary limitations that has ever been submitted to Sheridan County,” Haderlie said.
Public comment lasted one and a half hours, with 17 speaking against and three for the quarry. Primary concerns expressed were similar to concerns expressed at the first hearing in March. They included reduced land values; dust, mud and dangerous traffic on Bird Farm Road, which serves walkers, joggers, bikers, school busses, area vehicles and tourist traffic; noise from crushing activities; disruption in the quality or quantity of water in the area; harm to area wildlife; and destruction of the peaceful and scenic nature of the neighborhood.
“No amount of tweaking to a bad proposal, or a bad plan, will turn a bad idea into a good idea,” nearby resident Barry Held said.
Several residents said land in the area was already being placed into conservation easements. The former owner of the Hilleby’s land, John Drake, apologized to his neighbors for not putting his land into a conservation easement before he sold it.
“If I had, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Drake said.
Once the public hearing closed, the commissioners discussed their views on the quarry.
Brown said she didn’t like the first proposal and was shocked another quarry in the same location had been brought forth. She said it was the wrong location for a quarry.
Schumacher said he was torn. He made a motion to limit the term limit to four years and ultimately said he felt the need for gravel was worth allowing the quarry.
“Basically I had to rely on past quarry approvals and their mitigation plan and the way they limited themselves. I thought it was a very good commiseration on their part to try and appease the neighbors. Personally I think there is a need for aggregates in the county, so I had to side with them on this one,” Schumacher said.
Bornong said he was struggling to balance the need for gravel with the health and safety of area residents.
“Our county regs do actually talk about the balance in the county’s need for quarry products, which I think exists, with the consideration for health, safety and welfare of the public,” Bornong said. “Those two things I think are both important, and people spoke very impassionately here tonight, and in the end, in my opinion, there was such a strong, public, neighborhood sentiment against it that tipped the scale. It was a close vote, but that overall sentiment by the neighbors tipped the scale in my mind.”