Anger, worry, and disappointment filled the room Tuesday night at an emergency Lolo Community Council meeting.
The majority of the nearly 200 attendees at the Lolo Community Center showed up to ask local and state government officials to deny a permit for JTL Group Inc. to excavate a gravel pit on U.S. Highway 93 just north of Lolo. JTL’s permit application for an open-cut gravel mine awaits approval from the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The consensus was clear: Lolo does not want another gravel pit in its community—especially one that will operate for 20 years before the site gets cleaned up and reclaimed.
“Lolo Pond? When I saw that [in JTL’s proposal] all I could think is we already have Lolo Lakes. I mean excuse me people, but this isn’t a pond, it’s a gravel pit,” Lolo resident Jean Belangie-Nie told the audience.
Several state and local government officials attended the meeting, including Missoula Office of Planning and Grants (OPG) Director Roger Millar, County Commissioner Larry Anderson, State Sen. Greg Lind, and several representatives from the state DEQ office.
Near the end of the three-hour discussion Community Council member Michelle Allen had one simple request of the government officials assembled. She asked for them to put themselves in the shoes of Lolo residents, and tell them how they could stop the pit’s approval and eventual construction.
OPG’s Millar told the crowd his office couldn’t help because the area lacks zoning. The DEQ reps said law, not public opinion, would dictate the department’s decision.
Lind asked them a hypothetical question, “If everyone in Montana were to voice opposition to this gravel pit, would you still approve it?”
“Yes,” said DEQ representative Chris Cronin, disappointing many in the crowd.
“I’m glad all these people showed and listened to these comments so they could tell us they can’t do anything,” said Lolo resident Karen Tacke.
Residents have until Friday, Dec. 7 to comment on JTL’s proposal. However, the Missoula County Commissioners have asked DEQ to extend the comment period further.