Two proposed gravel pits near Victor will undergo an extended review after the Montana Department of Environmental Quality found five areas that need more study.
The decision to conduct the extended review under the Open Cut Mining Act came after a Dec. 12 public meeting in which about 25 people spoke about concerns over the proposal by Todd Townsend and Wade Moudy. DEQ now has until mid-February to determine whether to issue the permit for the gravel pits or issue deficiency notices.
Moudy is seeking a permit that would allow up to 500,000 yards of gravel to be removed across 14 acres about 2 miles north of Victor near Big Creek, although he’s only seeking a bond for 5 acres initially. Townsend is seeking a permit that would allow him to take an additional 400,000 yards of gravel on 10 acres nearby.
The life of the two mines is expected to be around 15 years. Each operation is expected to leave a water-filled pit behind, since they plan to dig about 28 feet down and the depth to groundwater is 3 feet during the wet season.
“We issued the letter on Dec. 21 that says because we received so many comments, we are doing the extended review,” said DEQ spokesperson Kristi Ponozzo. “We have 60 days to act on that, by either issuing a deficiency letter or a permit. Because we’re doing an extended review, it’s likely deficiencies will come out of it, but we don’t assume that will be the case.”
In the Dec. 21 letter, DEQ noted five areas of concerns with the plans submitted by Townsend and Moudy.
DEQ said public comments indicated that Townsend and Moudy didn’t adequately prove protection of the quality and quantity of the shallow ground water resources that local residents use for drinking water and domestic needs, nor did they adequately convey the interrelation of the pit hydrology to the neighboring Big Creek watershed.
In addition, the proposed plans may not adequately address how to maintain the conveyance of irrigation water through ditches within the site, or the interrelation of pit hydrology with the ditches. The plan also may not make adequate provisions for noise impacts on nearby residential areas, and the State Historic Preservation Office and the DEQ archeologist may identify the area as possibly containing cultural resources that could be impacted.
If the applications are unacceptable, DEQ will include a detailed explanation of the deficiencies.
On Wednesday, Townsend noted that the issues weren’t part of the initial applications, and now that the issues have been raised, he’s happy to provide more information to deal with concerns.
“I’m more than willing to compromise, but no one has asked me to; not one of those people came to me personally and asked questions,” Townsend said. “They (DEQ) deemed this necessary after the public meeting, and I’m going to get right on it as soon as possible.”
If DEQ issues a deficiency notice for either of the two proposed gravel pits, Townsend and Moudy have a year to submit a revised application. DEQ then has 60 days to review the revised application, and either approve the permit or issue a new deficiency letter.
Both applications seek permits to operate every hour of every day throughout the year, but both men are willing to discuss operating hours to lessen noise concerns.
“We want to be able to go get a yard of gravel anytime we want,'' Townsend said. "We’re not going to run a 24/7 operation, but if we want to get gravel on a Saturday afternoon, we want to be able to do that.''
He added that both he and Moudy are a bit frustrated with the reactions by the neighbors to their proposals, and are “more than willing” to sit down with neighbors to put together a proposal that makes everyone comfortable.
“We’re both planning on building houses right next to the site,” Townsend said. “If we were going to have disasters there, we wouldn’t be building a quarter-million or half-million dollar houses on the site.”