Imagine you live on a sleepy, narrow road where the only travel you see is local. Now imagine gravel trucks driving past your home day in and day out trucking gravel to the highway.
For several Star Valley residents this is reality.
Seven of those residents pleaded with the Star Valley Town Council at a recent meeting to put a stop or at least regulate what they view as a commercial mining operation on Latigo Lane.
Resident Bernadette Heath told the council a six-acre hilltop is being graded for the development of four parcels. According to the Gila County Assessor’s Office, James and Michelle Moore own three of the properties and Daniel and Virginia Kearns own the other parcel. To level the lots, Moore-Kearns are grading and removing 106,000 cubic yards of gravel. Heath estimated that if each truck can carry 12 cubic yards, that is 8,833 truck trips “through our residential area” to Highway 260. Heath said she couldn’t figure why anyone would need to remove that much gravel unless they were selling it for profit.
“Our deeds say this is a residential area only, but this is a commercial mining operation through a residential neighborhood,” she said.
Besides the commercial concern, Heath is concerned for the safety of residents who drive and walk on the road daily.
“The number of trucks is a safety issue,” she said.
Using several photos she took, Heath said that in several places along the road the gravel truck takes up the majority of the street, forcing residents to pull over and wait for them to pass.
“The roads are not capable to provide safe travel for an 80,000-pound transfer truck,” she said. “How will we fit both a fire truck and a dump truck? We need to protect the health and safety of residents.”
The council said their hands were tied on the issue because the trucks travel on only one town-owned road, Cornerstone Way. The rest are private roads and the town has no jurisdiction over them.
Furthermore, the Moore-Kearns have obtained all the legal permits through the town to remove the aggregate.
Councilor George Binney proposed the town set a weight limit for Cornerstone Way, which would at least shrink the size of trucks going through the neighborhood.
“We have limited weights on roads before, like in the Knolls,” he said.
Town Attorney Tim Grier warned against doing anything that could hinder them from building since they have a legal right to do so.
“If we try to stop someone from doing something legally we could find ourselves in a bigger mess,” said Mayor Bill Rappaport.
Councilor Vern Leis said if they limit truck weight they would be forced to use smaller trucks, which would increase the number of trucks.
Several residents said they were concerned for their safety above any dust or noise created by the trucks. Some worried that if a fire broke out at a home, a transfer truck may hinder fire trucks from reaching a home in time.
Councilor Gary Coon said it would be hard for the town to take a stand on this issue based solely on hypothetical statement like this.
Frustrated, another resident rose and said the town could be sued if a fire truck could not get to a home in a timely fashion.
With tensions rising in the room among councilors and residents, Rappaport attempted to reach a compromise.
“Let’s see if we can work it out,” he said. “Let’s set up a meeting with them. Butting heads is not going to solve anything. If not, we are going to end up in a big lawsuit and no one will win except for the lawyers.”
Engineer Andy Romance said he sympathized with residents, acknowledging the roads are in poor shape without trucks beating them up every day.
He said the town can do little at this point to stop development because the property was grandfathered in when the town incorporated. The county approved all permits, so they can continue to build according to the current ordinances.
Although this project cannot be stopped, Romance said the town could prevent this from happening again by adding a hillside ordinance that would limit the amount of aggregate removed from a site.
Grier asked Romance if the town did anything wrong on the property.
“We didn’t do anything wrong, but there is always more that can be done to protect neighbors,” Romance said.
Ultimately, the council said they would look into the feasibility of setting a weight limit on the road and discuss it at the Jan. 19 council meeting.