The future of what some Talkeenta residents allege is an illegal state-owned rock quarry adjacent to Talkeetna Lakes Park is up for official public comment through October 25.
The Comsat Road quarry, located about 1.5 miles up Comsat Road from Talkeetna Spur Road, is managed by the Department of Natural Resources and was used a handful of times between 1987 and 1995, then lay dormant until 2017, according to state records included in a draft lawsuit filing prepared on behalf of a group of Talkeetna residents. That’s when the state started actively selling material, including a combination of rock known as riprap, from the site to private buyers, the complaint from the group known as Comcast Area Lakes and Land Alliance (CALLA) states.
But the 150-acre parcel, only about 10 acres of which is currently in use for the quarry, has never been officially designated by the state as a materials location, the technical name for an area used for extraction, CALLA members say. And instead of going through the process required by law to do so, alliance members say officials with the Department of Natural Resources have skipped to a second step, material site re-designation. A decision on that redesignation would officially and forever green-light the quarry, while giving what it produces to the state’s department of transportation, they say.
“The cacophony of sounds inherent in the drilling, blasting, breaking, excavating, sorting, processing, loading and transporting the rock and related activities at the long-abandoned, recently revived Comsat Road quarry site, assaults on the senses during daylight hours and sometimes beyond, and has severely disrupted these peoples’ lives in ways that are not hard to imagine,” the complaint states. “The rest, peace, and quiet use and enjoyment that a person ordinarily expects in one’s own home are entirely absent here, due solely to the Comsat Road quarry.”
The quarry, the complaint states, is not included in any official area use plans, including ones put in place in 1985 and 2011. And making it official now would conflict with the area’s current use, which is centered on recreation on the Talkeetna Lakes, an area used by both local residents and tourists.
A YouTube video shared by alliance members includes an audio file of quarry activity sounds that can be clearly heard echoing. The audio was recorded at a spot near the lakes, according to the video’s narrator.
The draft complaint was written in April but put on hold pending the state’s designation and the current public commenting process, which ends October 25. Alaskans have until that time to submit an official comment to DNR regarding the quarry.
DNR contends the quarry was properly designated under a process set by law before 2012, and then reconfirmed as a materials site through an omnibus decision after the law was changed that year. And, according to the re-designation proposal, the quarry was simply “inadvertently omitted” from the most recent area use plan, not purposefully excluded. As a result it can now simply be added to the plan as resource management land without a specific public comment process as part of that step.
The quarry is also a critical resource for the state, which requires materials from it to respond to local road needs in that area, the proposal states. The Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PT) in the proposal notes its materials are used to solve a variety of emergency road and project maintenance issues. A transfer of control from DNR to DOT known as an Interagency Land Management Assignment (ILMA) is included in the state’s proposal.
“It is vital that DOT&PT continue to have access to the rock at that site for use during emergencies and for emergency permanent repairs,” Department Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PT) says in a comment in the proposal.
Rebecca Cozad, who owns land against Christiansen Lake near the quarry, is spearheading the alliance group. She said DOT’s characterization of how much they need the quarry is not true and evidenced by its limited use up to this point.
“Somehow, all of the properties for the entire area for all the bridges, all the culverts, the roads, the flooding, everything else came from somewhere else. Just by the mere fact that they haven’t used it, it’s clearly not the most critical thing out there,” Cozad said. “Does that mean they don’t need a riprap source? No, they do need a riprap source. ... And you’ve got to get somewhere. But that doesn’t mean you have to get it here, since you didn’t get it there for the last 56 years.”
The site also currently lacks a required special use permit from the Borough required before it can operate, according to a letter sent in April to the DNR’s Division of Land, Mining and Water. That’s because it does not qualify for a use exemption granted in 2011 because it had been ideal for more than 16 years, Alex Strawn, director of the Borough’s planning and land use department, wrote in the letter.
That designation was the subject of an Oct. 13 Borough hearing. No decision on the permit had been issued at time of publication.
DNR officials said using the area as a quarry is not out of step with the greater needs of the region, including recreation on the nearby lakes.
“Managing for multiple use may sometimes mean land is used for less than all of its resource values, but for a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that take into account the short-term and long-term needs of present and future generations,” Dan Sadler, a DNR spokesman said in an email. “Just because land is classified or designated in a particular way, does not preclude its use for other reasons.”
Still, Cozad hopes public push-back forces the state to abandon the quarry and instead makes officials take two specific steps.
“It becomes classified as public recreation, which is appropriate, and in alignment with all of all of the existing land use plans,” she said. “Secondly, it undergoes reclamation that removes it from being a nuisance, and brings it back to actually usable that will benefit the community.”
Comments regarding the quarry can be submitted by October 25 to Carol Hasburgh at DNR by calling (907) 269-8566, through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to (907) 269-8913.