The sands of Douglas County’s Kaw River Valley are once again drawing attention from a mining company.
Bill Penny, of Lawrence-based Penny’s Concrete, has filed plans with Douglas County officials to create a 351-acre sand pit mining operation between Lawrence and Eudora that could mine up to 5,000 tons of sand per day.
Penny is seeking a conditional use permit to create a pit mining operation near his company’s existing sand dredging operation, which is about 1.5 miles northeast of the intersection of Noria Road and North 1500 Road.
“We’re still very early in the review process,” said Mary Miller, a planner for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department.
The operation would not involve new dredging in the Kansas River, which is adjacent to the site. Instead, Penny is proposing to dig pits in the existing farm fields to get at the sand just below the surface.
But Douglas County planners said they’re seeking more information about the number of pits and other details about the daily operations of the plant.
“If you are a neighbor, it is kind of hard to know what you think about this until you know more about their operational plan,” Miller said.
Attempts to reach Penny and representatives with Landplan Engineering, which filed the application for the company, were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The area near the proposed site is sparsely populated, but Miller said two homes are adjacent to the site.
Penny, whose Penny’s Concrete operates 24 concrete plants in eastern Kansas and western Missouri, has been dredging sand at the site for years. But the latest proposal would be a major expansion of activities.
According to a study presented to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office, the operation would produce about 5,000 tons of sand on a normal operating day. It also would produce about 200 trucks entering and leaving the facility on a normal work day, which is expected to stretch from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The project will need to ultimately receive a conditional use permit from the Douglas County Commission before it can proceed. But first it will go through a hearing at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. That hearing tentatively is set for the planning commission’s Sept. 24 meeting.
The proposal is at least the third in the last couple of years that has sought to mine sand in the Kaw River Valley.
In late 2009, Manhattan-based Midwest Concrete Materials, which purchased Lawrence’s LRM Industries concrete operations, sought to create a sand pit operation near Midland Junction in northern Douglas County.
Last year, Kansas City-based Kaw Valley Companies Inc. sought to establish a nearly 200-acre sand pit operation along the Kansas River north of Eudora.
Neither project received approval. The Midland Junction proposal, which ultimately was moved to Jefferson County, drew opposition from airport leaders who believed the project would attract too many waterfowl to the area near the airport.
The Eudora proposal was heavily opposed by the city of Eudora, which expressed concerns the project would disrupt valuable groundwater supplies.
Both projects also created concerns about the loss of prime agricultural ground. Most of the sand supplies in the region are located beneath highly productive agricultural ground.
Douglas County Commissioner Jim Flory, who hasn’t yet studied the latest proposal, said the county clearly has a sought-after commodity in sand.
“These sand projects require a careful balancing act,” Flory said. “There are a lot of issues with traffic and land use that you have to keep in mind, but we have a definite, clear need for this product. We have to keep that in mind when we’re dealing with these requests.”
The study submitted to county planners indicates the majority of the sand will be shipped to the Kansas City area, where Penny’s operates a concrete plant off Kansas Highway 7 in Shawnee.
The study estimates that during the peak morning and afternoon hours, traffic from the plant will increase by about 40 trips from current levels.
The report, though, concludes the area road network can handle the additional traffic without major improvements.