Bonner County continues to workshop mining code

P&Z hearing reschedules for 2021

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The Bonner County Planning and Zoning Board has chosen for the second time to postpone a hearing on proposed changes to county mining code. The board took the opportunity Nov. 5 to further workshop the amendments, which many have criticized as an attempt by the county to expand certain mining operations into rural areas.

Bonner County Planner Halee Sabourin presented the proposed code amendments at the Nov. 5 meeting, which was originally scheduled as a hearing — where the board would take a vote — but later changed to a workshop due to a “clerical error,” according to Planning Director Milton Ollerton. He said a hearing will now take place after the first of the year, but no date has been set.

At the center of the proposed changes is something called a “certificate of zoning compliance” — a new administrative permitting process that Sabourin said serves a two-fold purpose.

“One, we want to give an opportunity for those who apply to verify the legality of land uses and development of structures, just as we have a [zoning certificate] that verifies the legality of a lot or parcel,” she said. “Second, [the purpose] is to provide a review process for certain uses that have very specific and narrow standards, and ordinances to address those concerns that may not pop up in a public hearing process.”

Sabourin said concerns specific to mining operations include emissions, noise, light, odors, dust, safety and more.

“The purpose of these amendments is to provide very clear standards for operation of these uses while ensuring that the uses will still be compliant with state and federal regulations,” she said, noting that language in the current county code regarding mining is “a little vague.”

Under the new ordinance, certificates of zoning compliance — issued administratively by the planning director and without a public hearing — will be used to permit existing and temporary mining stone quarries, gravel pits and stone mills, as well as open pits. New permanent mining stone quarries, gravel pits and stone mills will require a conditional use permit, and therefore a public hearing. Rock blasting, which used to be defined as its own mining operation, would be allowed in any permanent quarry.

Causing major concern among Bonner County residents who caught wind of the proposed changes in August was an amendment that would have allowed asphalt batch plants to operate in forest, agricultural and rural zones with only a certificate of zoning compliance. The public outcry was exacerbated by an ongoing legal battle between Sagle residents, Interstate Concrete & Asphalt and Frank and Carol Linscott surrounding a proposed batch plant in the Linscott’s gravel pit.

In response to those concerns — which argued that public input is crucial when permitting such operations — the planning board decided to continue requiring a conditional use permit for batch plants outside of industrial zones. Within industrial zones, however, a CUP is not required.

The Nov. 5 workshop saw comments from community members largely opposed to the changes, seeing them as opening the door to more mining operations in rural parts of the county. Ollerton ended the meeting by stating that the planning board was simply trying to find “the best solution” for improving the code.

“That’s why we continue to postpone this, have public hearings and allow for more public comment,” he said. “Some of the challenges are that folks often — they don’t do this everyday like we do, so understanding the codes and understanding the things that we are trying to adopt is sometimes difficult.”

“Mining is a part of daily life. We need it,” Ollerton added. “It belongs somewhere.”

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