The previously approved 24-acre gravel pit located less than a half-mile from Glacier National Park’s West Glacier entrance is back on hold. On May 3, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) demanded that pit owner Robert Spoklie limit his mining to the original two acres of the pit, which was originally approved in 1991. The DEQ decision comes weeks after Flathead County commissioners, on the advice of county lawyers, gave Spoklie the greenlight to expand the pit despite widespread environmental concerns from park officials and the pit’s neighbors (see “Dust Up,” May 3, 2007).
The DEQ originally granted Spoklie’s permit to mine the full 24 acres in 2005, but pulled it this month because, according to DEQ Industrial and Energy Minerals Bureau Chief Neil Harrington, the agency erred in the permit application process. For a complete permit application, a mining company has to have county authorization.
“That didn’t happen with the application Spoklie submitted to us,” Harrington says. “It was an oversight on our part.”
Attorneys for the DEQ, Harrington says, could accept the county’s April decision and allow Spoklie to proceed as planned. But Harrington notes something else the DEQ missed the first time around—public comment during the environmental assessment (EA) process.
“We weren’t aware there was any public concern about this operation, in its rather isolated location,” he says. “We had no indication anybody cared.”
Harrington isn’t sure whether asking the public through the EA in 2005 would have turned up the same opposition the pit has now. But, because current opposition is obvious, Harrington says DEQ attorneys may decide to go back and ask for public input into the decision.
If the public is allowed to speak, those comments may be the demise of the Spoklie pit.