The Juneau Planning Commission voted 8-0 Tuesday night to grant a permit to Montana Creek Development to operate a portable asphalt plant in the lower West Mendenhall Valley.
"I understand the commission had no other real option," said Tom Hanna, an Engineer's Cutoff resident who opposed the permit. "They made a good decision, but I'm afraid it might lead to a bad consequence. It's just not a good location. It's in conflict with a residential area (Engineers Cutoff) that's been there for a long time."
Representatives for Montana Creek were not available for comment this morning.
This was the third time the commission met on the issue. In the Oct. 4 meeting, it favored the conditional use permit, but a shortage of commissioners delayed a final decision. The six commissioners present voted 4-2 for the permit, but five votes are needed to approve a permit.
A reconsideration motion put the issue on Tuesday's agenda. This time the permit was approved unanimously, but only to operate for 10 days. Montana Creek has until June 15 to fill its 10-day limit. It must apply for another conditional use permit once its 10 days expire or the June 15 deadline occurs.
During its operation, the plant will be monitored to ensure it is complying with city guidelines.
"There's a 10-day window to figure out if the noise and (steam) plume will affect the neighbors," said Engineer's Cutoff resident Cindy Field. "But they (the city and Montana Creek) have no one to monitor this. I suppose the neighbors will have to be there every time it starts up."
However, Cheryl Easterwood, director of the city Department of Community Development, said the city will have a monitor at the asphalt site.
Field said she felt even a 10-day trial run was too risky for neighboring communities.
"The question I have is that they (the commissioners) are allowing this permit on a temporary basis because they don't have enough information to know how this is going to work," Field said. "It's their job to have that information before they can approve a conditional use permit."
Hanna said a 10-day permit is just a stepping stone for Montana Creek.
"My fear is that once you allow a plant to start operating it rarely, if ever, gets stopped," he said.
Field and others who live near the asphalt plant in the Sherwood Estates Subdivision on Curtis Avenue, near the end of Crazy Horse Drive recognize the location is zoned industrial. But with wetlands and neighborhoods so close by, the area poses unique problems, they said.
Also, they argue, because the lower West Mendenhall Valley area is bowl-shaped, the steam plume from the asphalt plant will hang in the area much like emissions in the Lemon Creek area.
If Montana Creek Development "doesn't operate much and is very careful, it may not cause a problem," said Hanna. " But that plant has the potential to be operated a good part of the year. The plume will be visible, and during the right weather conditions it can persist for a half-mile to a mile.
"I know Montana Creek doesn't want to do harm they don't have any other place to locate. But the borough needs to develop some reasonable option for development with air contaminants and noise effects. The valley is not the best place. In fact, it's the worst," Hanna said.
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