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Court battle over gravel pit may prove long, costly

 


Pine Bluffs Gravel and Cheyenne County have been at odds for many months now. The row began over the company’s work on agricultural land, which the county says is in violation of zoning code.

Two cases pertaining to the company’s continued use of a gravel mine are currently under advisement in district court.

Last week, the county’s civil case against Pine Bluffs went to trial. The case was based upon county attorney Paul Schaub’s complaint against the company seeking an end to its work at a gravel mine and batch plant on County Rd. 99. The plant is located around eight miles west of Sidney.

“Interestingly enough, just before the date that the trial was scheduled, Pine Bluffs Gravel filed a motion for a continuance, trying to put off the trial date down the road,” Schaub told the county commissioners Monday.

In the county’s civil suit it is seeking an injunction, removal of industrial equipment from the property as well as reimbursement for attorney fees and expenses.

Schaub heard information that the company intends to start operations again in early spring. On that basis, the county opposed the continuance and the trial went forward as scheduled.

A hearing was held for Pine Bluffs’ other case in November. The company appealed the board of adjustment’s order to uphold the findings of the zoning administrator, which claimed Pine Bluffs was in violation of county zoning code.

“I suspect we’ll receive a ruling on both of the cases within the next month,” Schaub said. “It is possible that after getting those rulings that Pine Bluffs Gravel would seek an appeal.”

The commissioners wondered if there would there be a temporary injunction on work at the property pending a decision from the court of appeals. Schaub answered that the court may impose a pricey bond, but not necessarily an order to prevent the company from moving forward with work.

“It’s a case that through the legal systems, that they’re going to keep this in litigation until the project’s done,” said county commissioner Ken McMillen. “Then they’ll close her down and they’ve got what they wanted and we’ve spent a lot of money.”

Schaub agreed that the company was doing whatever possible to keep operations running.

Because at the appellate level criminal cases take precedence over civil cases, once the case is appealed, the court probably won’t reach a decision for at least a few months.

“Even if we win, we lose,” said commissioner Harold Winkelman.

Pine Bluffs began operating a gravel pit at the property in Cheyenne County in June 2012. At that time the company opened a gravel mine in order to build missile site access roads for the U.S. Air Force. This project was completed in December 2012.

Initially, the company was in compliance by operating a batch plant or gravel pit on agriculture land for public works projects, but after six months of work the company was required to obtain a conditional use permit, the county claims. Since that time, the area has continued to be used to recover minerals, gravel or other substances and for gravel washing.

The company brought an application for a conditional use permit before the commissioners last spring. The county planning and zoning commission recommended that the county deny the permit. It was denied after much debate between nearby property owners, who said work at the pit caused their homes to be practically unlivable.

Pine Bluffs countered that its work was permitted under current zoning laws and that it strived to avoid inconveniencing neighbors.

Those living near the pit claimed that the huge amounts of dust emitted from operations were not only an inconvenience, but also a health concern. Additionally, they voiced issue with heavy traffic and noise from the site.

Pine Bluffs argued that it did more than most companies to mitigate dust issues and that the pit was a benefit to the county. The company was awarded the contract to provide gravel for replacement of a 12 mile section of Interstate 80, which began last summer and is set to continue this summer.

Before the permit was denied, the commissioners allowed an opportunity for the company and neighbors to discuss issues and reach a compromise, but they could not come to an agreement.

Pine Bluffs claimed that it will be using the ground for the interstate project and for private mining purposes. The company also argued that the cost for trucking in materials for the work would be much higher than obtaining them at this pit, locally.

According to the county, asphalt and concrete batch plant and borrow pits are only allowed in agricultural districts on a temporary basis of six months—and only if they’re being used for public road projects. When the Cheyenne County Board of Adjustments affirmed the findings of the zoning administrator in May 2013, there was some dissent.

“Air Force and state of Nebraska projects of Pine Bluffs have been temporarily and exclusively for the completion of public road improvement projects and complied with the six month limitation,” the dissenting argument in the appeal documents said.

The dissenting opinion argued that separate projects, each lasting six months or less could take place under current regulations.

 

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