By BRIAN WALKER
ATHOL — A request to renew a conditional-use permit to operate a restricted surface mine and asphalt batch plant just west of Athol has sparked outcry from neighbors.
Kootenai County commissioners will hold a public hearing on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Administration Building, 451 Government Way, on the 20-acre proposal in a rural zone by property owner Thomas Tallent and Coeur d'Alene Paving.
"Our goal is to reinstate an active gravel pit with a concrete batch plant that's been there since the 1980s," said Steve Syrcle, who represents the applicants. "It would benefit the community up there for obtaining a gravel product from a local source and having a short travel distance for deliveries."
The previous CUP for the site off Highway 54 expired on March 8, 2017. The new permit would be valid for five years.
George Molnar, who lives across Highway 54 from the site, said he has no problem with Coeur d'Alene Paving mining gravel, but he's opposed to an asphalt/concrete batch plant.
"We purchased this home when it was understood that the only operations that occurred for years was gravel mining with no intention of any other type of activity," he said. "The introduction of an asphalt or concrete batch plant will negatively affect our family's health and well-being and will adversely affect the value of our home and land."
After a public hearing last October, Hearing Examiner Sharon Mohr recommended that the commissioners approve the request with multiple conditions, including:
• no equipment maintenance;
• all excavations should be at least 50 feet from any property line;
• the batch plant must be at least 500 feet from the closest home other than Tallent's;
• the operation should comply with rules of all applicable regulatory agencies; and
• the plant should not be operated in a manner that's a nuisance or hazard to other property owners.
Hours of operation for the batch plant and mining operations would be Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. All operations would be closed on Sundays and holidays.
Night operations would be allowed for contracted city, county, state and federal projects only. The county must be notified 24 hours in advance of night projects.
"There may be projects in which it's safer for the community to be paving at night, but that will be a pretty short window of when that happens," Syrcle said.
Dan Howard, who lives across Highway 54 from the pit, said the operation existed years before many of the neighboring homes were built.
"Since the traffic impact and any possible pollution has been kept so minimal, I don't see any environmental argument that can be made to reject their permit," Howard said.
He said a batch plant would likely contribute to the resurfacing of Highway 54.
However, Danny Giesbrecht, a real estate agent who owns a home near the site, said he believes that the operation will have a negative impact on residents' quality of life and property values.
Arlain Hickman said dust from the operation is also a concern.
"As a registered respiratory therapist, I don't need any more job security," Hickman said.
Syrcle said the site already has berms to mitigate impacts and is in a wooded location that can't be seen from Highway 54.
He said there are no immediate plans to operate a concrete or asphalt batch plant.
"We're just seeking approval (of a CUP) so that, if it's needed on a temporary basis, it's available for a specific job," he said.
Syrcle said he understands neighbors' concerns, especially if they moved to that area in recent years, but plants have co-existed with homeowners all over the country, including in Sandpoint.
"We strive to be a good neighbor and want to create a safe environment that's not a danger to anybody," Syrcle said. "We addressed a lot of concerns (at the hearing examiner level) and we look forward to answering questions at the podium again."