San Tan Pit receives pit renewal
A gravel pit near area homes has received a renewal of its permit although residents weren't given notice of the hearing.
By Candace S. Hughes, Special to The San Tan Monthly
A Gilbert resident who is building a home near the San Tan gravel pit is complaining that he was not notified of a hearing in which the pit’s air quality permit was tentatively renewed April 17.
During a 3 p.m. hearing in the cafeteria of Walker Butte Elementary School Don Gabrielson and other Pinal County staff agreed to renew the pit’s permit for five years. No members of the public were present and no officials of Pioneer Landscaping appeared to discuss the application.
“I’m very disappointed I was never contacted by the county,” said Kevin Okuszka, a Gilbert resident who is building a home in the El Pedregal development west of the pit.
The San Tan Gravel Pit is at 26401 N. Gary Road and has operated in the area since 1996. Pioneer Landscaping took over the operation from San Tan Mining Co. in 2001 and still runs the operation. Debbie Ellsworth of Pioneer Landscaping was notified of the hearing, said Anu Jain, a Pinal County air quality permit engineer, but she did not attend.
Okuszka and his father-in-law, Al Wood, were the only citizens to file written comments regarding the company’s application to renew its permit. Wood, who lives in Michigan, is planning to build a home on land he owns near Gary and Silver Bell roads and move to the area.
“I had my telephone number on the letter and I was expecting a telephone call,” said Okuszka, who will move to the area with his wife and three children when their house is completed at the end of the year.
“The public hearing notice is always published in the newspaper and I am guessing it was the Florence Reminder (March 16),” said Jain.
In addition the hearing notice was published in The Apache Junction News March 23, according to affidavits of publication from the two newspapers.
“I’m not sure if the complainants were provided with a copy of the public hearing notice or not. It also is posted at different sites within the Pinal County Complex,” she added.
Okuszka said he was aware of the pit when he bought the land 18 months ago and that the gravel mining operation is visible from the back of his lot, but that he had been told the pit would close in several years.
“The gravel pit itself does not regularly water or control its own dust on its premises that it generates and the dirt, dust that pollutes the air is a constant problem,” Okuszka said in his Feb. 25 letter to the Pinal County Air Quality District requesting a hearing on the permit renewal. “I am asking for a public hearing for a chance for the families and myself to be heard, to voice their disapproval of this gravel pit and to put a final date on when this gravel pit will be closed,” he said in the letter.
Sharon Okuszka said, “It sounds like they didn’t want to inform anyone. We paid an overnight freight charge to get the comments to them and we have not had one response. We were never informed of the hearing.”
In renewing the permit, Gabrielson, director of the Pinal County Department of Health and Human Services, said he is requiring that Pioneer keep records of spraying during operations. Gabrielson said that Pinal County only has enough inspectors to take a look at the 40 gravel pits in the county about once every two years. Inspectors will respond if a complaint is made, Gabrielson added.
Okuszka also said he was concerned about the amount of dust created by trucks driving on the dirt road, but the air quality permit is limited to the amount of particulates created by the gravel mining operation. The issue of homes being built on or near a dirt road and a gravel pit is a zoning concern that isn’t part of the state statutes governing air quality, Gabrielson said.
Okuszka, who said he is working on his house two days a week, said he is unhappy with how often the road is graded and watered.
“There is always a plume of dust from the pit,” he added.
Pioneer does water the road, but officials with the company have declined to discuss the renewal with The San Tan Monthly. Because no violations have been found concerning the recently expired permit, there is little the county can do under state air quality regulations, Gabrielson said. Anyone wishing to appeal the ruling has 30 days to file a written request to reconsider the decision.
The company also has 30 days to pay the $1,000 fee for the renewal once it is issued, Jain said. Wood said he was not notified of the hearing, and thought that the pit would “go away in the next year or so. My son-in-law Kevin (Okuszka) said the pit’s permit was running out in a year or so that implied that the pit was going to close.” However, Wood still plans to build a home and run a solar consulting business there in several years.
He said his main concerns are with the traffic and gravel trucks tearing up the road, but added that the county is doing a good job in other areas.
“Actually, I’m pretty impressed with some of the planning they’ve done in a short period of time. We beat up on our public officials a lot, but in some cases they’re doing a marvelous job.”