Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Citizens force public vote over gravel pits

Bridget Schneller
Work continues on Homesteak Road gravel pit as the location’s future is in doubt.

Despite public disapproval, the Lawrence County Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved both the GF Development/North Star Construction and the Larson Family LLP applications for conditional use permits (CUP) at 10349 Homestake Rd., just northwest of Spearfish, Aug. 6.

Spearfish local, Naomi Merchant, led the charge to reverse the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval by filing a county referendum petition to bring the decision to a public vote. Merchant lives near the proposed location of the two new gravel pits and, like many, felt, that the construction and operation of an additional two gravel pits will cause more harm than good.

“Many citizens in Lawrence County attended the Planning & Zoning meetings,” Merchant said. “We had people who provided research and gave their concerns, but they moved forward with it anyway. It was the same thing at the Commissioner meeting. We had a room full of residents opposed to it, and – to me – the commissioners were very dismissive [towards us]. When they voted for approval,
they read off a paper that was obviously written before the meeting took place.”

Merchant formed a group of petitioners following the meetings; per the regulations of her approved petition, she was required to collect 1,000 signatures in order to bring the decision to a public vote. However, at the time, it was believed by the petition group that they would be able to run two petitions at the same time – one for each CUP.

“Both of these conditional use permits were in tandem,” Merchant said. “Unfortunately, I believe they knew we were going to do a referendum petition, so they split the case in two.”

Because of this split, the petitions for each case had two different due dates, which forced the petition group to focus on only one petition at a time.

Merchant was able to submit the first petition on time, which prompted the Planning & Zoning Commission to postpone the approval of the first CUP and set a date for a public vote Dec. 19.

Now, Merchant and her peers are focused on obtaining enough signatures for the second petition, which must be submitted by Nov. 27 in order for the second CUP to go to a public vote.

According to a pamphlet created by the petitioners, the addition of more gravel pits within the Spearfish area will pose a threat to both the physical and mental health of the local population. Respiratory health is one
of the major concerns.

Silica dust is an air pollutant that is most commonly found in gravel and soil. Silica particles are around 100 times smaller than typical dust particles and have been proven to irreversibly damage the lungs and lead to diseases like silicosis, cancer and tuberculosis.

“My husband and I have lived in [Spearfish] all our lives,” said Karen Turgeon, a retired elementary school teacher. “It means a lot for us to have the pristine environment that we always had as we grew up. The [silica] dust from the pits is a really dangerous situation for
the elderly and young children. I was a teacher at West Elementary for twenty-nine years, and I have over one thousand students in the community. All their children and grandchildren will be exposed to silica.”

Another concern listed in the pamphlet is the proximity of the pits to residential areas. Heavy machinery will disrupt the roads, and the use of explosives with an expected 10-mile shock radius holds the potential to damage property and cause bodily harm.

“[Three quarries] is completely unsafe for the health, safety and general welfare of the people,” said Les Turgeon, Karen’s husband.

Turgeon is somewhat of the research expert within the petition group, spending hours a day collecting information from professionals, online sources and attending “three different hydrology workshops” at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

“Most of the [Commission’s] decisions are supposed to be based on the Lawrence Country comprehensive plan and the zoning plan,” Mr. Turgeon said. “They even discussed that there was a threat because that area is a high recreation area, and putting that many [gravel] trucks other road is dangerous because of the air pollution; that road doesn’t even meet county specifications for that much large-vehicle traffic. It’s mind-boggling that they’re even thinking about approving this.”

Mr. Turgeon spoke with the county attorney who said whether the Commission was following the county comprehensive and zoning plan is “a matter of opinion.”

The petition group believes that the Planning & Zoning Commission is currently in violation of Chapter 1, Article 2 of the Lawrence County Zoning Ordinance which states, “This ordinance is established under the authority of SDCL. Ch. 11-2 which empowers the County Commission to enact a zoning ordinance and to provide for its administration and enforcement for the purpose of promoting the health, safety and general welfare of the County.”

About the Contributor
Nathan Feller, Editor-in-Chief