Permit denied for large Mat-Su gravel pit in middle of neighborhood off Parks Highway

PALMER — Mat-Su officials this week denied a permit for a large gravel pit proposed for the middle of a quiet Meadow Lakes neighborhood just off the Parks Highway.

The decision Monday night sets up a potential conflict with property owner Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, which operates under a mandate to raise revenue to fund mental-health programs for beneficiaries around the state.

Quality Asphalt Paving — a subsidiary of Colaska Inc., part of the international Colas Group — applied for the proposed pit in the unincorporated community just west of Wasilla. It generated vocal opposition from residents in the area as well as the local community council.

The company hoped to mine up to 2 million cubic yards of gravel over 20 years. The conditional-use permit application described as many as 1,000 truck trips on narrow, two-lane Sylvan Road every day. Peak traffic levels could involve 100 trucks an hour, a level engineers say borough roads generally can’t accommodate.

Residents raised concerns about safety, noise and diminished property values. The pit would sit within a half-mile of more than 270 property owners.

Out of 35 people testifying before the Matanuska-Susitna Borough planning commission Monday night, only one — a trust representative — supported the pit, according to planning clerk Karol Riese.

Quality Asphalt told the commission they operate gravel pits across the state, many in subdivisions, including in Anchorage. At Sylvan Road, the company promised to build earthen berms to block noise and limit loud rock crushing and screening operations to daytime hours.

QAP has other properties to mine gravel — residents pointed to an existing pit just across the Parks Highway — but that just pushes the same issues somewhere else, senior production engineer Patrick Cummins told the commission before they voted.

“It’s just going to be the next subdivision, the next neighbors,” Cummins said. “They’re just asking us to impact other people and not their backyard.”

The commission voted unanimously to deny the permit, saying the company’s application conflicts with land-use code and a 2005 plan to guide future growth in the area. Borough planners had recommended against the permit.

Trust officials say the denial could put the borough at odds with their fiduciary obligation to generate revenue.

The state corporation is required to use its roughly 1 million acres of land holdings to generate money for “beneficiaries”: Alaskans experiencing a development disability, mental illness, substance use disorder, traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.

An estimate indicated gravel mining on Sylvan Road over 20 years could generate nearly $1.6 million for the trust, officials have said.

The trust often works “very productively with local governments,” spokeswoman Allison Biastock wrote in an email Tuesday. “(H)owever, there have been a number of instances over the years where Boroughs have tried to exercise authority over Trust lands. Typically, such instances are resolved as a matter of law.”

The trust is considering an appeal, which must be filed in the next 21 days, according to Biastock.