SHERIDAN — Nearly 50 people packed Thursday’s Sheridan County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to speak about a quarry proposed on Bird Farm Road near the intersection with U.S. Highway 87. While a majority spoke against the quarry, a representative for the permit applicants and one nearby neighbor spoke in favor.
After listening to more than an hour of public comments, planning commissioners voted against the quarry by a vote of 3-1. This means the Commission will recommend that the Board of County Commissioners not approve the quarry when they consider it April 1.
The applicants, Hans and Martha Hilleby, who filed for the permit under the H & M Hilleby Trust, were present but did not offer comment.
The permit for the quarry requested a 20-year term to mine sand and gravel in a 156-acre area straddling Rhiner Creek about 1 mile west of the intersection of Bird Farm Road and Highway 87 in Banner. The application proposed to screen, crush and haul mined material off site using a private haul road off Bird Farm Road with hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
County Planner Mark Reid said county staff originally recommended approval of the permit since all requirements had been met and no letters or comments had been received as of Feb. 25 after notices were mailed to at least 19 residents who live within a half-mile of the quarry on Feb. 19.
However, as of 11 a.m. Thursday, at least nine letters of complaint were received expressing concern about a variety of issues including disruption to riparian land in the area and the pit being offset only 20 feet from Rhiner Creek, which feeds into Meade Creek.
County staff said they were unsure proposed mitigation measures would be enough to justify recommendation for approval and changed their recommendation to one of denial of the permit, Reid said.
Todd Wagner, who helped the Hillebys put together their permits for the Department of Environmental Quality and the county, said a majority of the material mined would be used on the Morrison Ranch, also owned by the Hillebys, on the south side of Sheridan, but that sale of materials was also planned. Wagner assured that mining would focus on five acres and would not exceed 15 acres since that was the maximum allowed by DEQ.
“We’re not mining 156 acres. We’re starting out mining five. I just want to be clear on that,” Wagner said.
Wagner said the request was for 156 acres because it was unclear where good sand and gravel would be found. He said reclamation would be continual with only 10 acres “un-topsoiled” at a time and that mining could improve the rocky pastureland.
Following Wagner’s comments, 15 people — including Attorney Kim Cannon, who was retained by three area residents to represent them — commented against the quarry, many reading letters from other neighbors who were unable to attend.
Brian Davidson, who lives adjacent to the proposed quarry, spoke in favor because he said the Hillebys were great neighbors and he thought the mining would improve land.
Comments against the quarry were impassioned.
Adjacent resident Susan Becker neared tears when she expressed that the area was precious to her and that it was her life.
“I beseech you, turn it down,” Becker said as she walked back to her chair after her second turn at the mic.
Arguments against the quarry included: concerns about safety on Bird Farm Road, which has several blind corners and services several school buses and bus stops; the potential for pollution in Rhiner and Meade creeks and water wells since the water table is high in the area; air quality with the dust and noise caused by mining and truck traffic; the short timeframe for notification, although Deputy County Attorney Lynn Smith said all legal requirements for notification were met; quality of life for residents who live as close as 400 feet from the proposed site; and concerns about the application itself requesting such a large area and time span.
Commissioner Steve Noecker said he was most worried about the public’s welfare, especially safety on Bird Farm Road, when he voted against the quarry. Commissioner Audrey Brown said the quarry was a misfit with the area and didn’t fit into the county’s comprehensive plan. Commission Chairman Bernie Bornong said he was concerned about the proximity and disruption to so many neighbors, the safety of the road and area children, and the riparian areas in the middle of the proposed mine site.
Commissioner Jeremy Smith said he generally supports quarries because all citizens drive on gravel and asphalt roads built with quarry materials, but that he struggled with this quarry more than any other one he has considered in six years on the Planning Commission.
He did amend his motion to approve the quarry to include stipulations that operating hours be 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and none on weekends, that setbacks be 200 feet from Rhiner Creek and 1,000 feet from any residence and that traffic on Bird Farm Road only be allowed to go east to Highway 87. Smith voted to recommend approval of the quarry.
The County Commissioners will consider the Rhiner Creek Quarry permit at 9 a.m. April 1.