Kathy Gill says she’s caught between rocks and a hard place.
The rimrock resident and her neighbors fought for more than three years to get rid of dust and noise from four gravel pits near their homes at U.S. Highway 95 and Boekel Road.
Now, they face a fifth.
Kootenai County commissioners Wednesday granted Interstate Concrete & Asphalt’s request to create a new gravel pit on 230 acres of the Rathdrum Prairie.
On Thursday, commissioners stressed that they approved the project because the other pits were already there.
Residents believe otherwise. The bitter neighbors say their new all-Republican county commissioners, two of whom were elected on property rights issues, simply left them in the dust in favor of big business.
“It’s a hopeless, hopeless situation,” said neighbor Don Jacobs, who blames gravel dust for his $100-a-month asthma medication bill. “They never really addressed the issues. It was a done deal from the start.”
Several of the neighbors still carry an election night photograph showing Interstate President Bruce Cyr laughing with newly elected Commission Chairman Dick Compton. All complain that Cyr was a member of an organization that donated $5,000 to Compton’s campaign.
During a May 20 hearing Compton swore he had never spoken with Cyr about the issue. Cyr testified that was true.
That’s not enough for the gravel-weary neigh bors who complain that commissioners made their decision without adequately reviewing the proposal and its history.
They point to the following:
Commissioner Dick Compton said Wednesday’s agreement with Interstate was “essentially the same” as a draft previous officials spent months negotiating. Residents argued the new agreement loosens restrictions on the duration of the operation, daily work hours and inspections. In addition, Interstate has promised to pave portions of Ramsey and Boekel roads, but nothing prevents the company from backing out.
“We intend to work to make sure the roads get done,” Commissioner Dick Panabaker said.
Commissioners said they voted for the pits because other mines already are there. Residents said many of those pits were developed in the 1980s without legally required notices to neighbors. County planners told commissioners they looked for, but could not find any notification records.
Last fall, Commissioner Bob Macdonald countered a request to limit Interstate’s mining contract to 20 years by suggesting the company be limited to 40 years. Wednesday, he initiated the move to grant the company approval to mine for 75 years.
Panabaker and Compton said they had not reviewed documentation from three years of negotiations and hearings before Wednesday night. At that time, they spent less than two hours reviewing papers and watched only two of eight home videos submitted as evidence of the nuisance from the pits.
Residents aren’t sure if they’ll appeal. They worry about the time and money.
Meanwhile, Cyr acknowledged the fight has been hard on residents, but the decision guarantees gravel for roads will be available here for the next 75 years.
Residents say the new 150-foot pit will merely ensure they’ll be wheezing and fighting noise from asphalt crushers and dump trucks unless they move.
“If they dig that hole deep enough, they might as well just bury us in it,” Gill said.
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