County puts off decision on quarry request
Representatives from Mid-States Materials appeared before the county commission Tuesday morning to revive their request to create a rock quarry on the south side of Humboldt Hill.
The land between Humboldt and Iola is currently zoned for agriculture, which means the county must approve a conditional use permit before crews from Mid-States Materials LLC — a subsidiary of Bettis Asphalt & Construction, Inc. — can begin mining the rock.
Last May, David Gant, the landowner of the proposed site, appealed to the Allen County Planning Board for the zoning permit. The board at that time voted unanimously to deny Gant’s request. Less than a week later, Gant chose to temporarily withdraw his application. It was reported, then, that Gant wanted to postpone the commission’s up or down vote on the quarry in hopes that he could visit with — and presumably assuage the concerns of — the handful of neighboring landowners opposed to the installation of a quarry.
By all accounts, Gant did reach out to his neighbors. So did at least one representative from Mid-States Materials.
And so last week, once again, quarry advocates appeared before the Allen County Planning Board in search of the group’s endorsement.
And again they were denied.
ON TUESDAY, Rich Eckert, an attorney for Mid-States Materials, took his case for a quarry to the county commission directly. But he didn’t arrive alone. On the pro-quarry side were a handful of field experts: a geologist, an environmental health and safety manager, the manager of a trucking company — each person affiliated with Bettis Asphalt in some capacity. But the anti-quarry stalwarts were there, too: area landowners Calvin Parker, Dave and Sue Scantlin, and farmer Shawn Geffert — residents who object, in the main, to the structural damage they believe blasting rock will inflict on their property and to the dangers that heavy-truck traffic at the base of the hill will introduce into an already vulnerable section of the narrow two-lane highway.
Eckert addressed these objections in turn, but first he reminded commissioners of Mid-States’ guiding motivation in establishing a rock quarry in Allen County in the first place. “Our business model is to have smaller quarries throughout the state,” explained Eckert. “When we bid KDOT jobs, when we bid city jobs, county jobs — if we can have a quarry somewhere close to that [project], we can control our cost with the aggregate [material]. That helps us make a low bid for the local taxpayers. And that’s the main purpose of Mid-States Material — to control our supply — and, quite frankly, we need a quarry in this area.”
And this particular hunk of earth is richer in rock than most, continued Eckert. “We don’t usually come and tell people what we’ve found on the property. That’s usually an ‘inside secret.’ ... But there’s been a lot of concern in the community about this site, so we went to our leadership and said, ‘Hey, I think it would be appropriate here to let everybody know what we found.’”
What they found, after a number of geologic studies, was that the proposed site contains 2 million tons of high-quality reserve.
Of course, for the four Allen Countians seated behind Eckert at Tuesday’s meeting, how much rock underlays the land is not the relevant question. The rub, said Parker, is how you propose to extract it. In other words, it’s the blasting.
“I worked for Monarch Cement for 28 years,” said Parker, who lives roughly 600 feet from the proposed site of the quarry. “And I was quarry supervisor for many of those. I’ve sat and watched many shots and [Mid-States] cannot say that I won’t feel every time that shot goes off. When you feel it, you’re taking a chance at damaging your house. … I would just ask that you follow your zoning commission’s recommendations. They’ve listened to us twice now, and that’s all I have to say.”
Eckert made a promise to Parker and to the commissioners that Mid-States, should they receive permission from the county, would agree not to blast within 1,000 feet of the quarry’s nearest neighbor. Eckert pointed to other quarries in the area — namely, Nelson Quarries — which operate within 500 feet of some homes. “The point is that you can safely blast within 500 feet and not harm the property.”
Furthermore, Eckert continued, “this isn’t a site where we’re going to blast every year. We’re going to blast a couple hundred thousand tons and that might be good for a couple years. This isn’t something where we’re blasting every week or every month. We’ll come in, we’ll blast, we’ll crush, and it could be a couple of years before we’re back. So, again, the concerns about the blasting might be a bit overblown.”
SHAWN GEFFERT had another worry on his mind. “My main concern is the safety aspect, with trucks pulling out on the highway there,” said the young farmer. “I haul a lot of grain to Humboldt and coming up over that hill, I just don’t think there’s adequate amount of time to stop if you’ve got a truck pulling out there. … There’s just not much room there, less than a thousand feet, and plus it’s a decline that I’ve got to stop on.”
To Geffert’s point, Eckert said that Mid-States has committed not to “sell any rock out of there until [the road construction currently blocking Highway 169] is done. We won’t add any truck traffic of our own to that road until the state is done with their project.”
He also promised to work with a county engineer to find the safest, most intuitive access road in and out of the quarry, and has pledged, if the county decides the measure makes sense, to ensure that Mid-States’ trucks make only right turns when exiting the site.
Bill Collins, the general manager of Capital Trucking — another Bettis subsidiary — also addressed Geffert’s concerns. “We deal with safety concerns every day with the amount of trucks we run up and down the road,” said Collins, who pointed out that the relatively small scale of Mid-States’ proposal for Allen County won’t generate the kind of truck traffic that many fear. “You guys have a lot more concern for safety and traffic and the roads getting torn up with your wind farm. This would be small potatoes compared with that.”
Finally, Collins said he views the quarry in Allen County “as an opportunity to maybe transition into a satellite location for another truck terminal.”
BUT ONE MAN’S opportunity is another man’s nuisance. “The majority of our landowners here are retirees and we retired here for a purpose,” said Parker. “We like the area. But what we’re going to have to look forward to every morning when they start crushing is hearing every one of those backup horns on every truck, because that’s a requirement. You can hear that go off a thousand feet from my house. I’m going to hear that every morning.” Parker turned back toward the commissioners. “I think you need to follow your zoning board. … That’s the reason you’ve got this board here.”
Eckert mounted a final defense by reemphasizing the infrequency with which blasting would occur. “I understand that people think this is going to be a daily operation. It just isn’t. This isn’t a daily quarry. This isn’t a weekly quarry. This isn’t a monthly quarry. It’s just there for when Bettis Asphalt bids, and for people who might need some driveway rock.”
COMMISSIONER Bill King made a motion to delay any decision on the quarry in order to give the commission more time to weigh its planning board’s recommendation against the merits of Mid-States’ appeal. Commissioners Bruce Symes and Jerry Daniels acceded to King’s request.
“I respect everyone’s opinion in here,” said Chairman Daniels, who emphasized that the commission’s number one concern in evaluating the proposal is the safety of its citizens.
“This is a difficult decision for us,” confessed the chairman. “I do, though, have a big problem telling someone what they can or can’t do with their own land. That [factor] made the decision easy for me [to agree to] the wind farm.”
Commissioners did not announce when they would next take up the issue of the proposed quarry.