Mat-Su Borough Assembly poised to vote on controversial gravel ordinance

The ordinance is back before the assembly after being tabled in March
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 7:12 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly is once again set to vote on an ordinance that would increase the allowable amount of earth materials to be extracted without going through a public permitting process.

OR 23-033 would amend borough code MSB 17.30 to allow up to 10,000 cubic yards of earth materials extraction — 8,000 cubic yards more than the code currently allows. The ordinance also adds a registration process specifically for small gravel “that does not require public notification” after filing with the planning department.

The measure, formally under OR 22-131, was tabled indefinitely back in March after weeks of public testimony produced a lot of objection from borough residents.

Assembly member for District 1, Tim Hale, said not allowing a public engagement before extracting that amount of material is “unpalatable” to the community.

“The public has an opportunity to come in and say, ‘These are the things you need to consider, and these are the things that, you know, that are good about this plan,’ and so by removing that you’ve essentially cut the public out of the decision,” Hale said. “This ordinance would allow you to do up to 10,000 [cubic] yards of gravel a year — for up to five years — without any kind of public hearing.”

Borough residents who spoke in opposition at previous Assembly meetings largely worried about more lax development practices occurring within their neighborhoods as well as more people starting gravel pits on their properties.

Assembly member for District 5, Mokie Tew — who is sponsoring the change to the current borough code — said there is a misconception regarding the ordinance’s purpose, and that it’s designed to offset permitting costs to promote property development.

“This is not to build gravel pits, this is to develop lots,” Tew said. “This is promoting small business, this is promoting house sites, that’s what this is all about.”

Tew said 10,000 cubic yards of gravel extraction per year would not generate enough revenue to be a “viable business in the gravel pit industry.” Some have speculated that the assembly member stood to gain from the measure as he owns a number of gravel lots, but Tew said that’s not the case.

“I’m retired. I’m done,” Tew said. “I would think that if I could use my experiences to help grow the borough, and help prosper businesses, I think that that’s like an obligation I should do.”

Tew went on to say that he’s actively in the process of selling those properties.

During the regular Assembly meeting on Mar. 7, the borough’s planning director, Alex Strawn, stated in his staff report that approximately 20 permit applications have been processed since the regulation went into effect in 2005. It’s unclear if those numbers will increase if the ordinance passes the Assembly.

Hale said the various versions of the ordinance have been kicked around the Assembly for about two years at this point, and that the definition has changed so many times that he’s unclear of its purpose in what is the largest growing census area in the state.

“All of those things could be valid, but at the same time you’re cutting the public out of the process,” Hale said. “That’s the no-go. That’s the red line in the sand for me. If you want — if you’re going to cut the public out of the process, I’m going to vote no against it every single time.”

Despite his own opposition, Hale believes Tew has the votes he’ll need to pass the ordinance at Tuesday’s regular Assembly meeting on June 6.