Granite Falls quarry meets resistance to growth plans

  • Sun Mar 21st, 2010 11:16pm
  • News

By Bill Sheets Herald Writer

GRANITE FALLS — A plan by a gravel mining company to nearly triple the size of its pit, and potentially the number of its truck trips, is facing opposition in Granite Falls.

Menzel Lake Gravel, a couple of miles southeast of town on Menzel Lake Road, has applied to Snohomish County to increase the size of its operation by 91 acres.

The pit would grow to 142 acres from 51. Another 141 acres around the perimeter would be set aside for wetland protection.

The operation is not located within city limits, meaning Snohomish County, not Granite Falls, will decide on the request for expansion. Most of the trucks that will take rock and sand from the pit, however, travel through Granite Falls.

The proposal would raise the truck trips allowed in and out of the pit over the course of a year to an average of 200 a day from the current 68 a day.

“The intersection at Alder Avenue and Menzel Lake Road does not have the capacity to handle an increase in truck traffic or the increased size of modern trucks,” city officials wrote earlier this month in a letter to the county opposing the plan.

Mayor Haroon Saleem and four of the city’s five council members signed the letter, which also listed pedestrian safety, street capacity, past history and public opposition as reasons for fighting the plan.

At a City Council public hearing last month, 16 people spoke against the plan with none speaking in favor. About 100 people attended the meeting.

Rob Hild, owner-manager of Menzel Lake Gravel, says that while the size of the pit would grow, the operation will not.

It’s a family operation with six employees, including himself, and Hild said he has no plans to add to that total.

He’s asking for more space to reach more sand and gravel, and is asking for more potential trips in the event of a larger than typical job, as he told the City Council in a workshop in January.

Most of the time, the number of trips will stay as it is, he said Friday.

“I don’t go after the big volume jobs because I can’t handle the big volume,” he said.

Because the pit is south of town, trucks would have to go a couple of miles out of their way and past two schools to use the bypass route under construction around the north end of Granite Falls. The primary reason for building the $28.7 million road, due to be finished this fall, was to reduce truck traffic through the city.

If the expansion is approved, Saleem said officials would like the trucks to use the bypass. Though the trucks would have to go past the schools, officials see that as having less effect than going through town.

Hild believes otherwise.

“I’d like to go through town so we don’t have to pass any schools,” he said.

The operation sells rock of varying size, sand and mixes, mostly to contractors for developments, roads and shopping centers, Hild said. Other customers include homeowners doing landscape work, as well as cities and groups building ballfields.

The operation also accepts dirt excavated from construction sites, which is inspected before it’s dumped, Hild said. Reclaimed concrete is crushed into gravel and shipped out again for road beds.

Opponents have criticized Menzel Lake for exceeding its number of truck trips allowed by the county. Hild admits to exceeding the limits of 68 trips per day in the summer of 2008, when he had a number of big jobs. He said that was the busiest time in the company’s history and that the operation was still below its allowed trips over the course of the whole year.

Hild says he was never contacted or reprimanded by Snohomish County for exceeding the truck-trip limit.

Paul Winter, who lives near the gravel pit in the upscale Pilchuck East neighborhood, is a leading opponent of the expansion plan. He has sent letters to the county pointing out the extra truck trips.

County officials are investigating the complaints, county spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said. No further information was available Friday.

When Menzel Lake Gravel began operating in 1997, it was granted a permit that had a sunset clause in 2012. The company agreed to pay fees to Granite Falls for driving on city streets, which it has done, city officials say. Menzel Lake also agreed to build ballfields on reclaimed land when the pit concludes its operations.

The application for expansion would extend the pit’s operation without a sunset date, Hild said.

“It’s got to be open ended because you have no control over the economy,” he said.

The county now is telling Menzel Lake that laws have changed and it won’t be able to put ballfields on the reclaimed land, Hild said. He says now the plan is to reforest the area when the pit is mined out.

The city and Winter both say they were misled.

“My entire community moved in when the public record said we were going to get ballfields and the pit was going to be out of business in 2012,” Winter said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.