Residents in Smithfield came out against a proposed gravel pit excavation at the Cache County Planning Commission meeting on Thursday.
Each of the 152 emails and comments submitted to the planning commission were opposed to the plan as it stands. Traffic and safety were the highest concerns for residents. Even those who weren’t opposed to a gravel excavation operation in the area expressed concern over the use of Canyon Road.
And landowner Shawn Cronquist — who applied for the temporary Conditional Use Permit — said he’d be upset, too, if that were the case. But he said his application has been misinterpreted.
Brad Bearnson, Cronquist’s legal representation on the matter, said the entire process has “gotten out of control” and people have made “heroic leaps and assumptions.”
“If you look at the notice, it would suggest to you that this is a 178 acre gravel pit; it’s not,” Bearnson said. “These folks live on this property. They raise cattle. This is hilly property, and it’s easier to run a cattle operation if you’re not always going up and down the hill.”
To do that, Cronquist said he needs to level a portion of his property. Cronquist said half of the fill-dirt would stay on the Smithfield property of Crazy R Longhorns and the area reseeded as grazing land, but he’d like to use the excess for his landscaping business, Birchcreek Landscape Inc. — which requires either a commercial or temporary CUP, according to county code.
In Cronquist’s letter of intent, it specifies while his total property amounts to roughly 178 acres, the area he wants to excavate amounts to less than 50 acres to be mined out in parcels of 5 acres or less over the next 15-20 years. And Cronquist added that although his letter referenced 45 acres, he anticipates the actual acreage excavated will be lower.
Chris Sands, the commission’s vice chair, said one thing working against the application is the county’s “number of bad examples of the temporary approach, of the phased five acres here, five acres there.”
“I realize beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the eyesore at the south end of the valley started that way, and it’s growing every day, becoming larger and larger and we’ll have to live with it.”
The commission questioned several inconsistencies in the letter. While the project’s hours of operation were listed as 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, it also states there will be no full-time employees on site. The number of dump trucks is listed as three to four per day, but another reference cites up to 10 trips per day.
The combination of acreage and timespan until the project’s completion gave John Luthy, the chief civil deputy at the county attorney’s office, reason to believe the temporary CUP Cronquist filed for isn’t the most accurate description of the project.
It “really doesn’t make sense,” Luthy said. “The initial hurdle is they’ve got more than 5 acres. They’ve got about 45 … and they’re going to run that 45 over 20 years. That’s commercial, even if they phase it out.”
Bearnson said his client was instructed to apply for a temporary permit due to his intent to parcel out the excavations in phases of 5 acres of less, but Luthy said “that’s not the intent of the statute.”
“The first requirement for commercial is you’ve got to have at least 5 acres and an ongoing operation with continual supply to the public,” he said. “What it’s not saying is that every operation that’s less than 5 acres is temporary, which is really the approach we have to take for this to be permissible on this parcel.”
In addition to the verbiage contradictions to the project, residents expressed concern over the safety of having multiple dump trucks a day use the narrow and windy Canyon Road as the main route for the operation.
In an email submitted to the county on June 2, Debora Seiter said she and her husband have lived in the canyon for 25 years and calls the idea “irresponsible.”
“ANYONE who has lived in the canyon knows how very precarious this canyon is to drive with its many blind curves and hills,” she wrote. “I would like the planning committee to take a drive up Smithfield Canyon Road and decide how safe it is. The road is too narrow, winding and busy to accommodate more gravel trucks.”
Berniece Cronquist said there are health concerns to be considered, as well. Both Berniece and her niece who lives in the area have cancer, and she expressed concern her daily headaches would be exacerbated by the equipment.
“We have dealt with thier (SIC) heavy equipment and gravel trucks for years,” she wrote to the commission. “The dust they create along with the level of noise those trucks create is very hard to live with.”
According to the planning commission’s administrative review, nearly half of the parcel considered for the CUP is listed as a source water protection area, requiring additional care to prevent contamination, and others shared concern on the environmental impact of the operation.
Terence Yorks shared pictures of the road that are already areas of concern from previous gravel extraction operations “where a significant part of the road’s support is surely giving away, which it would do ever so much faster if heavier trucks start pounding it routinely.”
“Big bucks eventually are going to be required to continue any vehicular passage through this section of Canyon Road,” he wrote, “but at least such massive repairs can be delayed if routine use by gravel trucks is shunted to a private road.”
Luthy’s suggestion for the council was to deny the application and have Cronquist reapply for a commercial permit, which would require a rezoning from an Agricultural to a Mineral Extraction (ME) Overlay zone. He said another option is to have Cronquist apply for a temporary CUP for each parcel rather than 20-year project as a whole, as seen in the current application, to ensure accountability.
Bearnson argued against the ideas due to the expense of completing the project all at once and the amount of time needed for each application.
“They don’t want to have to come back here two years for the next five acres,” he said. “The intent is not for a sand and gravel operation, it’s a cattle operation in the process of which he needs to level out areas for loading sheds, corrals, and other things to make part of it a little more useful for pasture.”
The commission chose to delay a decision until the next meeting on Aug. 6 and asked for Cronquist and his team to provide clarifying information on the application.