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Kandiyohi County preserves time limits on gravel pits

WILLMAR –– On a 2-2 vote that was broken by Chairman Jim Butterfield’s yes vote, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to keep time limits in place for conditional use permits issued for gravel pits.

After the vote, the board sought to reassure Zoning Administrator Gary Geer that the action should not be misinterpreted as a vote against his staff or the Planning Commission that had recommended the time limits be removed from the county ordinance.

The County Board very rarely votes down the Planning Commission’s recommendations and it’s uncommon for the board to have a split vote. But gravel mining has been a contentious community issue in the past, which is why the board voted a decade ago to include 10-year and 30-year time limits on gravel pit permits.

“It’s an emotional issue,” said Commissioner Roger Imdieke, who voted to keep the time limits in place, along with Commissioner Dean Shuck.

Imdieke and Shuck represent the northern part of the county where gravel mining is prevalent.

Commissioners Harlan Madsen and Doug Reese voted to remove the time limits.

The issue started Jan. 13 when the Planning Commission recommended a number of amendments to streamline the zoning ordinance, including eliminating time limits for gravel pit permits.

At its meeting Jan. 21, the County Board delayed taking action on the recommendations until the members had a legal opinion on whether they could approve some, but not all, of the proposed amendments.

In a written memo, County Attorney Shane Baker said the County Board does have that authority.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen spoke in favor of eliminating the time limits, calling them “arbitrary.”

According to Geer, there are 110 conditional use categories in the county ordinance but gravel mining is the only category that includes a time limit on the permits.

Gravel pits under 40 acres have a 10-year limit on permits and those over 40 acres have a 30-year time limit.

Madsen said he did not initiate eliminating the time limits but he did support it because it would streamline the permitting process. He refuted claims that changing the ordinance would “soften” or “turn a blind eye” to gravel pit violations.

“That’s not the case,” said Madsen, adding that the county is at a “different place today” for reviewing and permitting gravel mining than it was when the time limits were enacted.

Imdieke, however, said the time limits helped protect citizens, especially those who live near gravel pits.

“I’m not comfortable with taking that language out of the ordinance,” said Imdieke, adding that he wished there would have been more public input on the issue at the Planning Commission hearing when the amendments were first considered. No one from the public attended or spoke up on the issue at that time.

Madsen said the issue was thoroughly researched with ample opportunity for input. “The world is run by those who show up,” said Madsen.

In casting the tie-breaking vote, Butterfield said keeping the time limits will provide “peace of mind.”

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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