Asphalt Plant Project to last about 10 days

asphalt

A map of Forest Acres, with the proposed asphalt site outlined in blue.

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.



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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 hzemach@gmail.com

6 Comments

  1. Re: It’s not as horrible as people are making it out to be,” she said

    I am wondering if she lives in Forest Acres, if she has been jolted by the rock crushing all summer, if her wooded, private backyard setting became a noisy dump road, if she would like her family exposed to the asphalt chemicals and smells?

  2. I have a few comments in response to this article.

    First, while there is much good news here, I fear that the emphasis is on economics rather than what the people want, which I believe should be paramount in such decisions. If residents simply don’t want such a plant in their neighborhood – even temporarily (perhaps because of the precedence it sets) – then residents’ voices should be heard and acted upon rather than just listened to. I think there are many voices speaking against this plant, and I don’t think “10 days” will necessarily soften their resolve.

    The article says, “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.” This makes me chuckle because what isn’t costly here in Seward? Our automobile fuel is marked up, our groceries are marked up, etc. There is no reason that asphalt should be given special treatment. It’s a fact of life: living in Seward is more expensive. In fact, according to Sperling’s Best Places, consider that the cost of living indices are based on a US average of 100, and an amount below 100 would mean that Seward is cheaper than the US average and a cost of living index above 100 would mean that Seward is more expensive. Overall, Seward, AK cost of living is 135.10!! But alas, I digress.

    Oh, also, asphalt does not need to come from Anchorage to be used in Seward. When paving contractors come to Seward, they set up temporary asphalt plants – such as when they paved Questa Woods a few years ago.

    So to my second point: The original permit said all fuel would be stored offsite, and this article says “Some 4,000 gallons of fuel would be stored onsite…” Is there a new application, or an addendum to the original application that was submitted by Alaska Road Builders? The application I received from the Community Development Department last week said all fuel would be stored offsite (I repeat).

    Third, I see no mention of a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, or anything similar. I ask, is it meeting industry standards to contain the on-site fuel (were it to spill) with a “lined dike?” Where is the data supporting this? What about the other chemicals being used in the process, even if for just 10 days? There still must be plans in place.

    Please help me out here with the emphasis on flooding. Clearing Japp Creek of gravel to help mitigate flooding where? Across Dieckgraeff Road? I don’t think Japp Creek floods anywhere else. Does Japp Creek threaten homes when at flood stage? I don’t think it does, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t think this creek poses serious threats. I don’t think reducing flooding possibilities is a justifiable reason for Alaska Road Builders proposition, but I could be wrong.

    Finally, I am sad that this article gives little attention to citizens’ concerns and seems to downplay those with only two sentences. There is so much worry and concern among residents, so how about giving them more voice in a journalistic article? There are plenty of people to interview who have valid concerns that would balance this article.

    With that said, I will return to my opening comment, which said that there is much good news in this article. For example, many people will be happy that Alaska Road Builders is looking at other sites away from Forest Acres Neighborhood for a permanent operation. Wait, maybe that is the only piece of good news.

    http://forestacres.blogspot.com

    Education opportunities:
    FAQs about asphalt plants at http://daq.state.nc.us/toxics/asphalt/faq.shtml (A NC site since Alaska doesn’t have similar info that I can find.)

    Read about a community in a similar situation: http://protectonslow.blogspot.com/2011/02/would-you-want-asphalt-plant-in-your.html

  3. Dave Paperman says:

    While I am somewhat appeased by these new details, there are still several relevant concerns I share with many of my neighbors. I still plan on attending the meeting to gather more details.

    1. Does the conditional use permit have an expiration date or is it attached to the property owner or lease? Is this a project that may be continued year to year depending on need / available jobs where asphalt may be needed? Or is this truly a one-time deal and does the permit application clearly and unquestionably state such a limitation? Are we going to have this issue arise in future years as future road and construction projects pop up?

    2. Why was/is the rock crushing and other noisy operations allowed to start before 7 AM without penalty. I personally complained about this violation of the noise ordinance and it sounds from the comments posted that others have as well. A responsible operator would strictly adhere to such a relevant rule to their operation – and maybe even work to go above and beyond in an attempt to be a good neighbor. Perhaps the noise ordinance needs to be tweaked as noisy industrial activities more frequently encroach on residential neighborhoods and have potential negative effects on property values and associated city tax revenues.

    3. Most people do agree that removing gravel from the river is necessary and will help to mitigate damage from future floods. However, there is no ‘net benefit’ to the city from doing the rock crushing and other tasks like asphalt production on site in terms of flood mitigation. Couldn’t the materials be simply removed and brought elsewhere to either be sold, processed, or permanently stored? After all, the volume of materials removed for asphalt in this project in the great scheme of Japanese Creek is a drop in the bucket (bad metaphor) to what the glacier produces on an annual basis. The City/Borough/BCFSB will have to pay someone to remove the rock eventually anyway to mitigate flood damage in the future.

    4. I do trust government (not a popular concept in our day and age) and government employees to do their best for the community. I know that the employees of the city do their jobs to the best of their abilities every day and I thank them for their service! In cases such as this, they should be allowed to interpret the city code to an extent that would improve city communications with residents. Rather than strictly following the 300 ft notice requirement in code, why can’t we allow them to do other things to publicize these types of developments that it is clear will affect properties substantially further away. I didn’t see a public hearing notice on the site when I drove by several times (I may have missed it), and didn’t get any other notice than concerned neighbors visiting our home. Planning staff should be able to use their professional training, judgement and experience to expand notification (not decrease the number of homeowners informed) if they see a project as something that would interest residents other than those who live in such a close proximity. Why couldn’t a public notice sign be posted at the entrances to the subdivision?

    I hope that my questions are considered by both West and the City. I am sure that many of my neighbors share my concerns. I”m looking forward to July next year when I can wake up to the sounds of singing birds and Japanese Creek flowing down from the glacier, instead of a loader dumping rock into a hopper at 6:45 AM.

    • Well presented argument Dave. Well done.

    • Thanks for all your questions Dave,
      I’ll be interested to hear all of the folk’s concerns, questions, and hopefully answers Tuesday night, and I do share several of the questions Dave has. For instance why was the one-year plan reduced to a one-month window and 10-day operation?

      Donna Glenz said the City’s noise ordinance is from 7 a.m. until 10 pm. Maybe citizens would want the council to change that? Or if not, to make sure the company is aware of the hours, and how they feel if those hours not being strictly adhered to.
      Heidi Zemach