SUBLETTE COUNTY – The county’s July $1-million land purchase to expand the Doyle gravel pit on Pole Creek Road – unused since it was permitted 15-plus years ago – came under renewed scrutiny from citizens and neighbors who oppose it.
On Tuesday, Sept. 6, Old Brazill homeowner Dan Jones addressed the Sublette County Board of Commissioners about its plan to open the gravel pit at the junction of Highway 191 and Pole Creek Road.
Years ago, the county first bought 25.44 agricultural acres directly adjoining the highway intersection from the Doyle Family and earmarked it as a gravel pit, receiving a “blanket permit” for mining from Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
Because a gravel pit is an accepted use of ag property, the county was not required to notify neighbors or the general public. Nothing on the county’s official GIS map identities the first parcel as a permitted gravel pit. Its recent purchase for $1 million of another 40.2 ag acres from the Doyle Family also happened with little public disclosure, a sentiment shared by two commissioners and citizens.
The newly expanded Doyle Pit property, with irrigation ditches and working hayfields, is adjacent to neighbor Dean Boundy’s ranch and four subdivisions, 200 to 3,000 feet away.
Tuesday, Jones gave commissioners Doug Vickrey, Sam White, chair Joel Bousman, Tom Noble and Dave Stephens the petition signed by 223 residents opposing the Doyle Pit.
When the board approved the recent property purchase, 3-2, Vickrey and Stephens voted against it and Bousman, Noble and White voted in favor. The transaction was basically complete by its Aug. 9 meeting, when more than two dozen residents spoke against it, not realizing the deal was done. It sparked the petition drive and an attempt to start a dialogue with commissioners about how they proceed.
Tuesday, Stephens reminded Jones and 20 or so citizens present that he’d requested a public hearing before the July purchase; Vickrey also sought an economic analysis and appraisal in advance but the board majority held out against them.
Jones, with Boundy, told commissioners Road & Bridge has done an excellent job throughout the county and offered a brief slide show with citizen concerns about the Doyle Pit’s impacts on wildlife migration routes, trumpeter swans and “quality of life.”
“We’re not here today to ask you for a vote or decision, just your consideration,” Jones said. He asked who had visited the Doyle site – three of five said they had.
Boundy encouraged them to take a closer look at the property from his perspective and ask, “If this was my ranch and someone was trying to put a gravel pit next to it? I’m appealing to your sense of fair play.”
Part of the tract extends into his reservoir, Boundy added. “We want a good open dialogue and good common sense.”
The county has to follow state regulations to mine less than 10-acre increments, Jones said.
He referred to Sublette County Comprehensive Plan goals that emphasize citizen-based planning, environment, citizen health and wildlife – “We ask you to focus on the quality of life for citizens, not just dollars” the county said it saves by mining its own gravel.
“We ask the commission to focus on citizens and quality of life.”
The county is working to close its Richardson Pit near the Town of Pinedale offices on South Tyler Avenue – even that operation affects downwind neighbors and Pole Creek Road area homeowners with construction noise and dust from stored gravel piles, they said.
Boundy recommended commissioners visit the Doyle Pit acreage and then visit the Richardson Pit “when it’s running – would you like to live next to that?”
Jones thanked Vickrey and Stephens for voting against the Doyle Pit – “It shows your consideration.”
Current work plan
“Thank you for being thoughtful in the way you present your arguing points,” Bousman said.
Road & Bridge supervisor Billy Pape submitted his Doyle Pit mining plan and maps that day and county clerk Carrie Long made copies.
The site map shows 14 phases with only one larger than 5 acres. Phase 1 at 3.98 acres, would strip 6,421 cubic yards of topsoil directly by the highway intersection and nearby subdivisions. Pape has said equipment could be staged now using the current access road.
The access road, a quarter-mile from the highway, leads to a flat pasture – on top of a deep, steep bank along the highway intersection faced all around with river rock. That would create a berm to block views from the highway and stripped topsoil would create a berm between phases 1 and 14, it shows.
Noble – who said he would rather live next to a gravel pit than a subdivision – thanked Jones for his “outstanding” presentation.
Noble explained his familiarity with roads, gravel and construction.
“My question to you and everybody in the room, with ‘dialogue’ do you see a change in your opinion? Are you openminded enough to consider (the gravel pit’s opening)?”
He said he would share his perspectives as long as people opposing the mine keep an open mind.
“The first time you see (county workers), they’ll be stripping the topsoil,” Noble said, and then operating for 30 to 60 days, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., depending on a project’s gravel needs.
Jones asked if commissioners had talked to people living by the “sewer plant gravel pit” – the Richardson Pit on South Tyler Avenue.
Noble said the county would prefer to use that pit up, then open the Doyle Pit; the closed pit could hold a new justice center, for example. “That was part of my decision.”
People don’t like change but the Doyle Pit site plan would take a whole season to get established, he said.
Jones said the currently drawn berm “on one side doesn’t address noise and dust. I can see the (Richardson) pit in the Town of Pinedale from my porch.”
Another reason Noble approved the Doyle purchase, he said, was to own surface and mineral rights without “shared ownership” with federal agencies.
“A reason we bought this pit was to get away from those stipulations,” he said. “Dialogue is pointless unless we can come to agreement”
Jones stated he could not represent all of the 223 petitioners’ oppositions.
Boundy asked how long the mine would be used; Noble said “a significant project” could bring a lot of use and on a smaller scale, “noise and dust would be minimal.”
“I’m willing to continue this dialogue with each one of you as long as you’re not hard set,” he said.
Bousman was open to considering options, he said. “I’ve had a thought to call Dean and he could show me around.”
Noble said mining would stay “far enough away” from Boundy’s reservoir to not impact the pond.
White said he supported the purchase because it was “adding onto the existing mine … where we own mineral rights.”
He is open to options – “I’m glad you’re not coming in here mad at us. Let’s continue this conversation.”
Vickrey said he voted against the purchase because it “was fast-tracked, let’s get it done, and we failed to bring in the folks we have here today. Looking at the people here, these conversations need to happen before decisions are made. As a commission, we’ve sort of dropped the ball on that.”
Jones said 40 of 100 people he spoke with “said this was fast-tracked.”
Bousman turned o homeowners for comments.
Sharron Ziegler said she lives up the hill “from this beautiful hayfield” and watches the sun set every day in that field. She would also see the gravel pit every day unless the county dug deeper than planned.
Pat Jones fights dust every day from the Richardson Pit and watches “the dust come in on the wind.”
Anne McNerney asked Noble’s pros and cons, saying that wildlife migrate through that landscape and “wildlife is why we moved here.”
Bruce Kerhagen questioned Noble’s openness “to dialogue.”
“Is this conversation to appease the masses? Where are we at with it? The county’s going to go ahead and develop regardless.”
Pape said he “can’t determine when we’ll go in there. … We still have mining at the Richardson Pit. We’re not going in there tomorrow.”
He would “tread very lightly” into the Doyle Pit, which could be reclaimed later.
“The rumor is going around the county is going to start up there soon,” Jones said.
“We have no intention in 2022 of doing anything there,” Bousman replied.
Commissioners appeared amenable to further discuss concerns but did not set any framework.
In his Sept. 7 review of the meeting, Jones said “some mitigation ideas” came up but nothing to address noise pollution, water management, wildlife disruption or traffic safety entering Highway 191.