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Gravel Pit Regulation Up for Debate Again Before KPB Assembly

Unlike incorporated cities, the unincorporated areas of the borough are unzoned. Large gravel pits move through a conditional-use permit process at the borough level.
Unlike incorporated cities, the unincorporated areas of the borough are unzoned. Large gravel pits move through a conditional-use permit process at the borough level.

The age-old battle between commerce and quiet has resumed.

A slate of regulation changes for gravel pits is back on the table at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, reigniting a debate about the borough’s most contentious planning issue. With a final decision still a ways away, landowners on both sides are raising many of the same concerns as they did in in 2019.

Gravel pits are open mines where gravel is extracted. The Kenai Peninsula is home to many, especially in the borough’s unzoned unincorporated areas.

Most applications for gravel pit permits go through the borough’s planning commission. And they’re consistently controversial, eliciting heated testimony from owners who spend years and money on their pit plans, as well as residents who worry about how those pits will impact their neighborhoods.

That’s why the borough convened the Material Sites Working Group in 2018 to take another look at the existing decade-old regulations. The group of eight met for over a year and crafted a list of recommended code changes that it hoped would reduce conflict between neighbors, from changing the hours allowed for pit operations to creating stricter rules about audio and visual barriers by pits.

But neither side was happy with the recommendations. Gravel pit owners thought they were too strict. Their neighbors thought they weren't strict enough. So the borough assembly decided against enacting any changes at all.

“Rather than the assembly taking that and going through and looking at the whole suite of changes, they just voted it down without much discussion," said Robert Ruffner, who was a planning commissioner at the time. "So that was pretty disappointing.”

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce brought those same recommendations up for the assembly’s consideration at its meeting last week.

Emmitt Trimble is one of the stakeholders who takes issue with the proposed changes.

Trimble lives in Anchor Point and applied for a gravel pit permit four years ago so he could mine gravel for his business, Beachcomber LLC. He said Anchor Point relies on jobs and development from gravel pits like the one he’s proposing.

But his neighbors say a pit would mar their ocean view and be a source of noise. And in 2018, the borough’s planning commission rejected Trimble’s permit application, a break from its usual record of approval.

A lengthy back-and-forth ensued and the issue went to the courts. Ultimately, a Kenai Superior Court judge ruled that the commission can, in fact, deny gravel pit permit applications. The planning commission is holding held a hearing on the Anchor Point pit permit tonight.

Trimble said last week decisions about negative sound and visual impacts from pits are subjective.

“No one’s gonna be entirely happy," he told the assembly. "But when you have both sides unhappy, that’s not the time to run forward with it.”

Gravel pit critics say they’re dissatisfied with the rule changes, too.

Ken Killian, of Sterling, thinks open pits are disruptive. He told the assembly he wants more measurable standards in place so that the planning commission isn’t making arbitrary decisions about which pits are OK and which pits are not.

“We are asking our elected officials in this room to go back to the drawing board, make a radical change in where these pits can be located, create true standards – not squishy conditions that have allowed business interests to move into our neighborhoods and make them an undesirable place to live," he said.

Ruffner is still serving on the planning commission today. He said disapproval from both sides of the issue is what stymied the assembly from taking any action last time around.

“This time, I’m hopeful that at least the issue will come up and whatever comes out is more clear to the planning commission, so we really understand what rules we’re supposed to be applying from the assembly," Ruffner said.

It will likely be a while before the assembly makes a final decision. At their last meeting, members passed several amendments to the ordinance and rejected another, but didn’t take any action on the original motion. They said they’d solicit more feedback from industry groups and concerned citizens before the next discussion.

Assembly President Brent Johnson said he’ll convene an assembly subcommittee to talk about the issue and create a final package for the assembly to consider.

You can find the original story here.

Sabine Poux is a freelance reporter based in Homer. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont, where she fell in love with local news. She covers all things Kenai Peninsula, but is especially interested in stories related to energy and fishing. She'd love to hear your ideas at