Douglas County commissioners reached a tentative agreement early Thursday morning to grant a conditional use permit for a large sand pit mining operation along the Kansas River near Eudora, provided no significant issues are found in a groundwater survey that must be conducted before the permit is issued.
Although commissioners did not take a formal vote — it will take at least another two weeks to draft the particulars of the motion — it was evident Wednesday night that Commissioners Mike Gaughan and Jim Flory were willing to move forward with the project, while Commissioner Nancy Thellman remained opposed.
Under the bargain reached shortly after midnight, Penny Concrete and Van LLC, the two owners of the property where the pit would be located, would agree to pay for a "pre-dredging report" to be conducted by an independent consultant that would do an in-depth analysis of the underground aquifer around the site to determine whether the sand pit would pose a significant risk to the city of Eudora's municipal water supply, as well as to domestic wells of neighboring property owners.
If that report shows there are no "show-stopper issues," as one engineer phrased it, the county would agree to grant the conditional use permit, subject to numerous conditions that have already been negotiated, and possibly subject to more conditions that could be recommended in the report.
In addition, commissioners and the applicants agreed to vastly reduce the size of the project to about 200 acres, less than half the size of the original proposal for a 456-acre site. That involves moving the excavation site at least 1,000 feet away from the river, and eliminating a portion of the proposed site lying south of a wetlands area.
That agreement came around 12:30 a.m. after about six hours of public comment and debate among the commissioners. It was at least the fourth public hearing on the proposal in the last five months, including two each before the Douglas County Commission and joint meetings of the Lawrence-Douglas County and City of Eudora planning commissions.
In January, the two planning commissions voted to recommend denial of the permit. The main issues raised at that meeting concerned the potential threat to both the quality and quantity of groundwater supplies, excessive noise, and the destruction of more than 400 acres of prime agricultural land.
Thellman said it was the issue of land use that convinced her to oppose the permit.
"Thirty years from now when we have this pit lake, that's when the Census Bureau tells us we'll have 2 billion more people on Earth," Thellman said. "It's a local issue, but it's a global issue. We owe it to the next generation and the generation after that not to take the short-term gain and lose 400 acres of prime agricultural soil."
The county's comprehensive plan establishes a number of priorities for planning growth and development of the county. It includes the goal of protecting highly productive farm land as well as the goal of marketing the county's mineral resources.
"It's a classic case of competing land-use issues," Commissioner Flory said. But he said it would be an overreach for the county to limit the rights of the property owners for anything other than to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.
"When you restrict individual rights and liberties, government should use the least restrictive alternatives, and should do so only to protect physical safety, health and welfare," he said. "It should not to advance a political view or philosophy."
The commission is tentatively set to take a final vote March 13 on a motion that will spell out the structure and details of the approval.