Green Bluff residents are furious over plans to triple the size of a gravel-mining operation in their quaint agricultural community northeast of Spokane.
Spokane County has owned and operated the 33-acre quarry for 10 years but now wants to buy another 100 acres for a planned expansion.
County engineers and planners are asking to have the land rezoned from its agriculture designation to allow mining.
“I’m definitely opposed, and I am not negotiable,” said Dennis Duerr, who lives next door to the proposed affected property.
Some 150 Green Bluff residents clashed with county officials during a two-hour meeting at the Green Bluff Grange Hall last week.
Vern Scoggin, of county road maintenance, told the crowd that expanding the gravel-mining operation means saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by not having to haul materials from distant sites.
“There will be a tremendous savings to taxpayers if this site is approved,” said Scoggin.
Jane and Robert Salnick live 580 feet from the existing mine. They bought their Green Bluff house and 16 acres in 1989.
They say the planned expansion would cause noise problems for nearby homes, pollute or damage the aquifer and destroy habitat for deer, elk, eagles and other wildlife.
“Mining has a powerful impact on the environment when you are drilling and blasting,” said Jane Salnick.
The Salnicks worry that the land, once rezoned, could be used for other industrial purposes, including concrete manufacturing or as a transfer station for recycling.
John Pederson, the county’s senior planner, said zoning changes are often approved with conditions limiting the type of activity on the property.
Other research by the Salnicks shows noise from the expanded gravel mine could exceed state law by at least 20 decibels at their home, at times reaching 80 decibels.
Experts say a high noise level over an extended period can cause mental and physical distress.
According to the Human Factors Design Handbook, at 80 decibels, “People have to converse in a loud voice less than one foot apart. It is difficult to think clearly after about an hour. There may be some stomach contractions.”
But county engineers said noise at the mine won’t be excessive.
“We had mining operations there in 1986, 1989 and 1990 - how many of you heard it then?” asked Bill Johns, county engineer. division of engineering asked.
A zoning change wasn’t required when the mine originally opened.
“The county was not subject to its own zoning in the 1980s. Now they are,” said Pederson. Under new regulations, the agricultural land must be rezoned for mining.
“Without the zone change, no further… mineral extraction can take place legally,” zoning enforcement officer Allan de Laubenfels wrote in a recent letter to the Salnicks.
A public hearing before the county’s hearing examiner was scheduled for mid-March, then cancelled at the last minute when it was discovered that several neighbors hadn’t been notified.
The hearing hasn’t been rescheduled. In the meantime, county planners are reworking the required State Environmental Protection Act checklist.
Concerns about noise and the risk of wells running dry because of blasting and mining has rallied residents.
“A lot of us up here say you shouldn’t tell someone how to use their land, but a lot of us also say don’t mess with our water,” said Jane Salnick.
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