Pinedale residents thank DEQ for listening

Joy Ufford photo

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Those gathering on Jan. 25 to comment on the county’s plan to expand and operate the Doyle Gravel Pit on the south edge of Pinedale thanked the state’s air-quality administrator simply for taking time to listen.

The public hearing, offered by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division (AQD), was the first and perhaps only opportunity many had to speak their minds about the Sublette County Road & Bridge pending application to excavate its original 40-acre property previously AQD-permitted for a gravel pit, and enlarge to the county’s newly purchased 24.5-acre adjacent site. 

Public hearing

AQD Administrator Nancy Vehr outlined how the public hearing would be conducted in the Lovatt Room, saying she and staff Andrew Keyfauver and Logan Libal could not answer any questions about the county’s application but only take comments, record the meeting and review notes later.

They wanted comments related to air quality, but Vehr said later that a factor might influence the process.

The county received its first initial permit on the ranch land because it is zoned as Agricultural and a gravel pit is an approved use. No notice was required, so the county chose to not follow through with neighbors. However, the property, located on Highway 191 at the intersection of Pole Creek, continued to be undeveloped for years.

The county commissioners’s latest summertime million-dollar purchase was consummated between public meetings with very little transparency, some residents complained. Commissioners Tom Noble, Sam White and retired Joel Bousman voted, 3-2, to buy the Doyle property and commissioners Dave Stephens and Doug Vickrey voted nay; the majority ruled.

Vehr and DEQ director Todd Parfitt routinely approve air-quality permits for gravel pits with proper dust and visual mitigation. The county’s new request included mining, crushing and storage of gravel, sand and topsoil plus a hot-mix asphalt plant. The asphalt plant was not mentioned in public meetings, many commented.

Air quality

Karla Bird, who lives next door in Old Brazzill Ranches, said she appreciates the county’s excellent streets and roads.

But with the town’s northwesterly winds, gravel pit emissions and dust would come right over the neighborhood, endangering her family and the community. Winter ozone is another negative factor, she said.

“We have other air quality issues, to have a brand new big pit there?” she said, adding Highway 191’s dense traffic brings safety concerns.

New Pole Creek Road resident Janelle Villalb said her family just moved here last summer when she heard about the Doyle Pit. She said “social and environmental justice” are “paramount” to understand the gravel mine’s impacts on a community.

“The community was not involved,” she said. “There are very fundamental questions about the integrity of how this land purchase moved forward in executive sessions.”

Plus, she added, as a realtor, “The $1 million the county paid (for the new land) is was overpriced” – her market-value estimate was closer to $200,000.

When the county expressed interest in the land, the price went up and it was posted for sale, Villalb said. “It’s not a good use of taxpayers’ money. … I am very, very disheartened with the lack of transparency.”

Mile radius

Bruce Gehagan reminded Vehr and the public that Road & Bridge’s Billy Pape noted only 50 residences within 1 mile of the Doyle Pit. There are at least three subdivisions adjacent to the county land and Pole Creek Road is residentially developed, he said.

“Besides being in a residential area, the demographics are totally inappropriate for it,” he said. “Drawing a 1-mile radius around the Doyle property goes all the way around town, the Pinedale Aquatic Center, county offices, schools and the museum. It entails a lot and (Pape’s number) is totally inaccurate.”

Also, a byproduct of quartz is silica sand, he said, that will blow all over and has not been addressed. The hot-mix asphalt plant will be a source of unhealthy emissions.

“So many things are not addressed,” Gehagan said. “It was thrown out to us. … Fifty houses – the application ought to be thrown out.”

Dave Racich said his comments were as much about the county’s secrecy and that the county has at least 15 already-active gravel pits. He referred to the county’s previous high-dollar purchase of ag land for a gravel pit in Bondurant. If the county actually needed the gravel, it might be “progress.

“There was never any discussion about a hot-mix plant here; I’ve looked and I can’t find it,” he said. “Has the county even drilled a test hole to see what’s there?”

He urged consideration for nearby aged residents in bad health or on oxygen who would be living “on top of it.” Racich also questioned how and where the property’s water would be drained.

Dwight Gibben said he worked for years in gravel pits and “there’s always dust.”

Community health

Linda Romasko said she suffers severe respiratory problems due to COVID and lives “directly downwind – everybody in this room has a lot of concerns.”

Romasko pointed to Pinedale’s high elevation as a negative factor if residents are exposed to silica dust, “a known carcinogen.”

If the DEQ-AQD does allow the county’s permit, she requested restrictions, constant monitoring and best available control technology. She also knew nothing about the hot-mix asphalt plant, suggesting a separate facility permit.

Ted York said the situation “seems like a no-brainer” that the county would “run diesel equipment all day long” and reduce air quality.

“If the commissioners don’t give a hoot about their citizens, maybe they would care about this as a gateway to Pinedale” – with visitors’ first sight of Pinedale being a gravel pit.

“It’s disappointing and disheartening.”

Would the new senior center and new hospital fall within the 1-mile radius, the Pinedale Roundup asked, and had the AQD considered the effects of winter ozone combined with dust and emissions? The questions were not answered but noted as a public comment. 

Never mentioned

Commissioner Stephens, who attended the public hearing as did Vickrey, stated, “To the best of my knowledge, a hot-mix plant has never been mentioned.”

He apologized that county commissioners did not plan a public meeting before purchasing the property.

Resident Sharron Ziegler asked how the gravel mine’s emissions and dust would affect the wildlife “in that field,” naming sandhill cranes, geese moose, deer, fox, antelope and a wolf as animals she watches and photographs there. Before the meeting, Ziegler said, she saw three moose standing by the Doyle Pit gate.

Ray Bredthauer said their home is within 300 feet of the pit. “I was very surprised to hear and read about that asphalt plant. You’re the DEQ – maybe we should get the EPA in here too?”

Bob Harrower explained that he is “fortunate enough to have property between the new gravel pit and the old gravel pit.”

“No matter what you do, the air quality is not going to get better.”

As a runner, Kris Holmes said, “I would like the opportunity to have one more thing that takes pollutants out of the air.”

He praised Vickrey and Stephens for opposing the county purchase, challenging “the other commissioners to listen to their community.” 

Fragile health

Pinedale physician and Old Brazzill homeowner Dr. Renae Dorrity brought up a distinct lack of air conditioners that means people open their windows when they want fresh air, “not fumes and volatile organic chemicals from asphalt processing in the middle of a residential area.”

She will be working at the new hospital, she said, at the same location as the medical clinic, and it is less than 1 mile away.

“This is a community that struggles with respiratory health; baseline oxygen is in the low to mid 90s here,” she said. “There’s very little room for bad air. There is already a fragile health ecosystem here.”

Gehagan asked again, “If the (emissions) information is incorrect, what if it’s three times that? If it is misrepresented in the (county’s) application it should be null and void. … I’m wondering if it should just be thrown out.”

Villalb told Vehr, “I am relieved to have a place to share these concerns. Our due process was withheld in this.”

In closing

After Vehr asked the public, if they wanted, to submit written comments at the hearing, Racich gave her his list of active gravel pits.

Then Vehr began the formal process of closing public comment and the public hearing and thanked the audience for their participation.

“We really appreciate public engagement,” she said. “We’ll evaluate everything. And I’m happy to answer other air-quality permit questions.”

Vehr then spent an hour explaining and answering “in general” questions about AQD’s systems and processes. She discussed modeled emissions, monitoring methods and ambient air.

For more information about local air quality monitoring, Vehr recommended the DEQ-AQD website,

For more about winter ozone and alerts for the Upper Green River Basin, go to