Sinking in gravel 

There’s no doubt that gravel pits—necessary for supplying materials to the booming construction industry, but generally fought by residential neighbors-to-be—have been a flash point in the Flathead Valley lately.

In the last 15 months, Flathead County has been sued six times over decisions related to gravel pit permits. But an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court may soon clarify the county’s authority over such holes in the ground.

In May, the Flathead County Board of Adjustment approved the Tutvedt gravel pit, proposed for the rural West Valley neighborhood of Flathead County, with the condition that plants for processing concrete and asphalt cannot be built on the same property.

Flathead County District Court affirmed the board’s decision last month, and the Tutvedt family has since appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

The suit brought by the Tudtvedt Family Partnership contends the county inappropriately applied a law passed by the 2005 Legislature, which allows counties to regulate gravel pits in residential areas.

Before the 2005 law was passed, Flathead County residents were in an uproar over Flathead County’s finding that state law prohibited it from regulating gravel pits in any way. The new law, according to Jonathan Smith, the deputy county attorney who handles gravel pit issues, ended some of the suits.

But in applying the new law, Flathead County commissioners approved a zoning amendment stating that residential zoning is not necessary in order for the county to regulate gravel pits; there need only be residences permitted in the area. The Tutvedt pit is in an area zoned agricultural, but with homes nearby.

Another gravel pit-related suit, brought against the county in February by Robert Spoklie, whose proposal to expand a gravel pit just outside Glacier National Park was denied by the Flathead County commissioners in January, also questions the amendment. Spoklie’s case has not yet gone to court.

The Supreme Court’s decision will likely answer whether the county’s implementation of the law is appropriate, and possibly solve the county’s gravel problems.

Smith could probably use the break.

“Hopefully it will add some clarity to what our authority is,” he says.

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