The Seward Planning and Zoning Commission is set to hold a public hearing Tuesday evening, August 20th on an application for a Conditional Use Permit that would enable Alaska Road Builders Inc., of Soldotna to extract gravel and run an asphalt plant on two 1.3-acre adjacent lots in Forest Acres Subdivision and easterly portions of the Japp Creek drainage. The land, owned by Afognak Logging Inc. is being leased to the Alaska Road Builders Inc, which has been using it for gravel extraction, an ongoing project which continues today.
New information has now come to light that had not been included in the original CUP application, clarifying a number of questions posed by the planning department this week, and indicating a major change in the company’s plans. Alaska Road Builders said that the proposed asphalt plant would be established for a one-time project only, and would only be operated for about 10 days as needed during a 30 day period, beginning at the end of August. The hours of operation would be 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Again, there will not be a permanent plant established at the Forest-Acres site, nor one that would run for a full year as the original CUP application had said. The company is searching for a different location in the Seward area in which to operate a plant in the future on a more permanent basis, however, said City Planner Donna Glenz.
The parcels are included in a vast area around the edges of Seward zoned Resource Management. A Conditional Use Permit was issued for gravel extraction in 2005, but it had been taking place there long before that, Glenz said.
“It’s not as horrible as people are making it out to be,” she said. One of the key assets of the project that the public may want to consider is that gravel extraction could help reduce flooding. Currently, the nearest asphalt plant is in Anchorage. The distance from Seward makes it costly and inconvenient to transport here for use on local projects, as asphalt must be applied while still warm.
As the application now stands:
The planned use of the proposed project is repaving the Seward Highway from mile 17.5 to 22.5, work at Spring Creek Correctional Center, and at the DOT maintenance station at Crown Point.
Some 4,000 gallons of fuel would be stored onsite, inside a lined dike.
The preferred route would be Diamond Boulevard to Dieckgraeff Road (the new levy road) to Seward Highway. The company has applied for a land use permit from the University of Alaska to access Diamond Boulevard directly.
Alaska Road Builders believes that the project is in keeping with the Seward Zoning Code and the purposes of the zoning district as material from Japp Creek will help minimize flooding, and the processed material will be used to produce asphalt for the Seward area, thus promoting economic development and infrastructure, and making asphalt commercially available in the Seward area, according to the CUP application. The value of adjoining property would not be significantly impaired as those lots are vacant and undeveloped, the company adds. Nor would the proposed use be harmful to the public safety, health or welfare as all equipment meets MSHA and ADEC requirements and permits, the application said.
Some concerned residents from Forest Acres created a petition against the plan, and invited others to attend the public hearing. They are sharing concerns about the potential noise, pollution/ health hazards, and bad smells that asphalt plants are known to emit.
Seward City Council members also may attend the public hearing, but City Attorney Cheryl Brooking warned them at Monday night’s council meeting not to talk with anyone about the issue or read any information on it as that would be considered “Ex Parte” communication. She explained that Latin legal term means that were they ever to become a quasi-judicial body, such as a board of adjustment, established to hear an appeal of a P&Z commission decision, prior discussion would prejudice their judgment. As a Board of Adjustment, convening to hear an appeal, council members are required to enter those deliberations as neutral parties, having not been privy to ex parte information, Brooking said.
The hearing is open to the public. It begins at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 20th, in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
SCN reporter Heidi Zemach can be reached at email@example.com