Borough Weighs Gravel Mine Application

A plan to vacate agricultural rights on a parcel of Matanuska Susitna Borough land is running into opposition. At a Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday night, [sept 16 ]residents spoke out against an ordinance aimed at approving a gravel mine on farmland.

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 The ordinance would allow Colaska, Inc, doing business as QAP, to purchase the development rights on 213 acres of agricultural rights only land the company purchased from the Matanuska Susitna Borough in 2010. Colaska, Inc, wants to extract gravel from the land. But the agricultural rights stand in the way of that plan. The ordinance came up for a public hearing Tuesday , September 16,  at the Mat Su Borough Assembly meeting. Assemblyman Matthew Beck, who opposes Colaska’s application, says several people spoke against the move at the meeting.

“The agricultural land is so limited, and we have a lot of land in the Mat Su Borough, we’re huge.  And there’s lots of other areas where this could be done, where they wouldn’t have to use valuable agricultural land.  Someone argued that the land isn’t currently being farmed and hasn’t been farmed in a while, but it is evident when you look at it that it has been farmed in the past.  There are windbreaks that are built into the land and so the potential is there for it still to be farmed.  And  the concern of a lot of people who came and testified was , once you turn it into a gravel pit, it will never be farmed again. “

 Beck says if the ordinance is approved,

“Yeah, it opens the floodgates.  there are people in line who have brought property on the same gamble, that they may be able to do away with those restrictions.  And I don’t want to start that precedent. “

 Glenda Smith, with the Borough’s land use office, says Borough code uses soil quality to determine if land is classified for agricultural use. If the soil qualifies, the land in question is slated for farming, unless there is a compelling health or safety issue pending. Smith says Colaska knew the land it bought was classed as agricultural.

Borough staff, as well as Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss, have come out against Colaska’s gravel plan. DeVilbiss says he’s put the Assembly on notice that he’ll veto the ordinance, should it pass.

But Assemblyman Vern Halter urged the panel to take another look.  During his comments at the meeting, Halter said:

 “I’d invite the Farm Bureau to come up and take a look at that piece of property. It hasn’t really been farmed or agged for many years.. it’s  not a farm right now.  Basically, those windrows are going up, but you k now how fast those willows and birch grow, that’s pretty much the condition of it right now. Just on first sight, don’t make such bold suggestions. Go look at it.”

Halter says he’ll decide on the issue after he hears the rest of the public comments.

Tuesday night’s public hearing was continued, however, until the November 19 meeting, at the request of the applicant. The public will be able to weigh in on the ordinance again at at that time.   QAP did not return calls for comment.