Gravel pit regulation gets no support
A roomful of gravel pit operators spoke to the Hubbard County Board Monday to urge it not to impose regulations on a struggling sector of the economy.
The board, in an open work session, took up the issue of whether to regulate the hours of operation of gravel pits after receiving a complaint last summer from a resident bothered by noise from a continuous crushing operation near Kabekona corner, the site of several pits.
Gravel pit owners and operators universally said more regulations could kill the business when Minnesota construction seasons are too short to allow operators to even bid for work.
Shortening workdays via a county ordinance would decimate the business, many said.
Many pits operate " in the boonies that aren't bothering anyone," said board member Lyle Robinson.
But in more populated areas, crushing operations are a nuisance, he acknowledged.
"We've had one complaint so I'm not sure the extent of the problem," said board chair Greg Larson.
Robinson said while there don't appear to be many public complaints, some residents are reluctant to air their grievances before a public board.
Board member Dick Devine suggested "an equitable solution that doesn't take an ordinance."
Self-policing with common sense was suggested by board member Kathy Grell.
And that seemed to be the most palatable solution.
"If we can't solve it the townships may be more restrictive," Robinson said about enacting an hours of operation ordinance.
"Sometimes we go 24 hours," said Ron Wickham of Anderson Brothers Construction. "The crusher has to have a certain amount of material through it. We have to get the job done."
The complaint last summer came because of the Highway 71 project south of Bemidji that required huge amounts of crushed rock.
Wickham said ordinances tend to slow down jobs and make some properties unusable. Jobs are bid on the premise of working usually six days a week, very long hours, he said. At the initial stages of construction, crushers usually work 24 hours around the clock to stockpile gravel.
"Rockwood Township set my crusher at half days," said Dale Vogt of Vogt's Dirt Service.
Where he would normally work from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. six days a week, the township curtails his hours to 12 hours a day Monday through Friday and 10 hours on Saturdays, he said.
"You've got to have some leeway," he said. "You've always got problems."
Vogt opposed more regulations and pointed out that his operation was there first.
"All these people moved in around us," he said.
Jeff Brooks of Knife River Materials said with spring road restrictions and tight construction deadlines, his company may not even bid one of the early jobs.
Some operators said they notify nearby residents of crushing operations; others say it's impossible.
Brooks said his company tries to have neighbors within a half-mile distance from the plant sign off on permission to operate on St. Louis County jobs.
"Knocking on the neighbors' door is not going to work," said Terry Farrington. Massive jaws that are used to crush rock make noise like thunder, he said.
But Steff Basgaard of Knife River said job sites are frequently monitored with noise meters and must be in compliance of a certain decibel level.
Sue Vieregge of Central Specialties said her company uses a "good neighbor" policy of operations.
But " less hours creates a nuisance for a longer period of time." When residents are asked, they'd rather the pits operate longer hours and complete jobs sooner, she said.
She suggested an ordinance was "an unnecessary level of regulation."
A "cookie cutter ordnance won't fit all," she said. "Not all pits are created equal."
And many pit operators said backup alarms, not crushing operations, are the most frequent source of complaints. Such alarms are required by federal law on all heavy equipment for safety reasons.
Dean Cumber suggested before any action is taken, board members should "know exactly what the source of the problem is."
Some operators spoke of "white noise" types of backup alarms that are less intrusive than the older beeping models.
Ralph Sanquist said the industry should police itself. And he admitted that even during the winters doing snow removal in the middle of the night, backup alarms can cause problems.
Some operators said equipment could be moved around to mitigate the sound. And pit locations can either enhance or muffle the sounds of operations.
The Kabekona area "is a bowl," Robinson said. "The sound goes around and around and around."
Other pits lower into the ground don't have as many noise problems, some operators said.
Board members took no action and said due to the infrequent number of complaints, they aren't likely to enact an ordinance.
"Bad contractors will be weeded out in this recession,," Cumber predicted.
Meanwhile he said if residents have noise complaints, they should take them to the source.
"Give us a call," he suggested. "We're not that grumpy."