SUBLETTE COUNTY – Neighbors and citizens who spoke against the county’s $1 million purchase of an undeveloped piece of property on the edge of Pinedale are carrying their discontent another step.
The “Petition to Sublette County, Doyle Gravel Mine" making the rounds has gathered 223 signatures of Sublette County residents opposing its future as a 65-acre gravel pit, along with four email comments and 14 social media responses opposing “the Doyle gravel mine.”
The only question asked was "whether or not this would bring new jobs,” according to neighbor Dan Jones, who started the petition drive.
“No, it won’t,” he said Friday, because it would be county-owned.
Jones bought a home in Old Brazzill Ranches nine years ago; neither he nor any of his neighbors knew they would view gravel mining operations instead of wildlife on the still rural, fully irrigated property with four ponds and a spring.
Their homes are 200 feet to 3,000 feet away from the proposed gravel pit, Jones said.
In fact, the county purchased the first 20-plus-acre agricultural property 15 years ago central to four subdivisions of homeowners who watched wildlife, cattle, trumpeter swans and other animals and birds. There is no identification in the Sublette County GIS map of the Doyle lots’ pending future as a gravel pit.
“The first shock was when your (newspaper) article came out,” Jones said. “Economic development has value, for sure, but we also have to inject quality of life in there.”
“The county is implementing a 15-year-old plan without regard for the residential changes of 15 years,” the petition says.
A gravel pit is an approved use of agricultural property, not requiring any notice to neighbors or the public. County officials declined to follow through on that notice and previous executive sessions were vague.
“The focus is on dollars,” Jones said. “But counties are not private enterprises.”
They also declined to seek an appraisal, instead citing how much money the county saves by mining its own gravel.
“They were only interested in the money,” Jones said. “They didn’t talk about wildlife, people’s safety and quality of life. … They didn’t have a net asset value study done. If you don’t plan, study and think, how can you say you’re going to save millions?”
County commissioners learned about the Doyle family’s 40-acre irrigated agriculture property when Road & Bridge Supervisor Billy Pape brought them notice of its “for sale” status earlier this year. It is adjacent to another agriculture parcel the county bought earlier with the intent of reserving its use as a gravel pit.
The two pieces front Highway 191 and Pole Creek Road, although its very visible location just south of town was never specifically named even as commissioners voted, 3-2, to attempt to buy the second piece.
The first parcel has not been mined, although county officials received a “blanket permit” from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to use it all as a gravel pit.
At the commissioners’ July 19 meeting, 25 or so citizens attended to speak against the purchase, its price, a lack of mineral analysis or appraisal, water availability and quality, wildlife, noise and dust. Commissioners went ahead and approved the purchase, 3-2, with commissioners Dave Stephens and Doug Vickrey opposed.
“County commissioners have approved the mine in closed door sessions with public inputs, committing an additional one million public dollars,” the petition says. Commissioners legally met in executive sessions to discuss “real estate.”
Two gravel pits that brought public complaints and criticism into the county’s meeting room are the county’s Bondurant pit and the “Bousman pit,” initially owned by retiring commission chair Joel Bousman.
Commissioners scheduled a public workshop in Bondurant, which is shielded from view to hear citizen concerns. The older Bousman pit, now under another name, was the topic of many letters to the editor about dust, noise and traffic in its day.
Jones said he and the Dean Boundy family, which owns part of the original Old Brazzill Ranch and leases pastures “to a real rancher,” are fighting to reverse the county’s decision or at least force thoughtful answers to what they see as major issues.
When asked about noise and visuals at the July 22, Pape suggested a berm.
“That’s between the mine and the highway,” Jones said, “Which leaves three other sides not enclosed.”
As for water management, Pape said a drainage plan would be worked out.
“My understanding is a couple of (current irrigation) ditches would be affected,” Jones said.
Jones and the Boundy family have filed a complaint with Wyoming DEQ, requesting an investigation. The petition and comments will be sent to the Lander office, he said.
Jones tried to verify how many gravel pits there are countywide and could not. But, he said, “The rumor is the are about 200 gravel pits that are private, public, private/ public and government.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 6, the Sublette County Board of Commissioners agenda will slot public comment for citizens to speak about the Doyle gravel mine on what they consider “prime agricultural land supporting ranching and a myriad of wildlife.”