Livingston Parish leaders are considering tweaks to the parish’s gravel mining regulations that could resize and reconfigure the buffer zones between the pits and their neighbors and allow gravel trucks to load as early as 2:30 a.m.
The amendments will be discussed Tuesday at a meeting of the Livingston Parish Council’s Ordinance Committee.
“It’s hard to write something that will work for the entire parish, be fair to both parties and also be good for both small and large pit operators,” said Councilman Shane Mack, chairman of the committee. “I thought the original ordinance was pretty well-written, but it’s hard to get things right the first time, and we saw some changes that needed to be made.”
The existing regulations came in response to Southern Aggregates’ plans to locate a 230-acre sand-and-gravel mining operation next to Oak Hills subdivision in Watson. Neighborhood residents adamantly opposed the project, and former Councilman Jim Norred, who lives there, spearheaded the ordinance’s adoption in 2014 in an effort either to block the project or protect his neighborhood from feared declines in property values and quality of life.
The ordinance has been heavily criticized by mining company owners as an overly burdensome and “cookie cutter” approach to regulating a diverse industry that has thrived in the parish for generations.
Some of the most significant changes now proposed involve the minimum distance between a mining operation and neighboring residents and what activities and structures would be allowed within that space.
The committee discussed at its March 22 meeting increasing from 25 feet to 50 feet the standard setback requirement for mining operations from all surrounding property lines. No excavation, gravel washing and sorting, truck loading or other operations would be allowed within the buffer zone.
Mack’s initial proposal also recommended a more stringent 125-foot setback from any property line shared with an existing residence or commercial building — a standard that tracks current law but sparked a lengthy debate among committee members and local mining industry representatives.
Kevin Black, vice president and general manager for Southern Aggregates, said the larger buffer zone makes sense only for landowners with houses built near the property line. Creating large buffer zones for homes built hundreds of feet from the property line would be needlessly burdensome for the mining landowner, he said.
Black recommended instead a combination of setback standards that require, for example, a buffer of 125 feet from the neighboring residential structure or 50 feet from the property line, whichever is greater.
“I think that is very fair to both landowners,” Black said.
Mack and Councilman Garry Talbert, who also serves on the committee, said Friday they agree with that compromise approach, although neither had settled on specific setback distances they would support.
Another topic of significant debate has been how high and how far from the property line the mining operator must build vegetative berms to protect neighboring homeowners from the noise and view of the pits.
Parish regulations currently require a 12-foot vegetative berm to be built on the pit-side edge of the buffer zone along any neighborhood. Mack has proposed dropping the height requirement to 8 feet, and the committee is considering allowing the berm to be built closer to the property line.
The purpose of the berms is to help shield neighboring residents from noise and, to some extent, the view of the mining operation, but Black said the farther the berm is built from the homeowner, the less effective it will be in meeting those goals.
Black and other mining operators also told the committee that the more land between the property line and the berm, the more they will use that space for roadways, berm maintenance and other nonoperational uses.
“If we have to place the berm on the far (pit-side) edge of the buffer zone, then I’m going to take full advantage of the property right up to the toe of the berm and will need to use the back side (next to the property line) for my travel ways,” Black said Friday.
Mack said he would rather keep those activities on the pit side of the berms.
“We’re going to put a requirement in there that no activity or service work be performed (between the berm and the property line), other than working on the berm itself,” he said.
Mack also plans to tweak his proposal to require berms only where the mining operation is both adjacent to a named subdivision and within 250 feet of residential structures, he said.
Talbert, the councilman who now represents the Watson area, said Oak Hills residents have told him they would agree to having the berm built closer to their properties to limit the activity on their side of the barrier.
The amendments also would include a new timeframe for trucks to load at the site each morning. All plant operations, aside from maintenance, are currently allowed from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the proposal would permit trucks to begin loading as early as 2:30 a.m.
Black said the change would help keep the trucks off the parish’s roads — and out of school zones — during morning rush hour, decreasing the likelihood of accidents.
“Also, if we can load our trucks earlier, then we don’t have to run the washer until, say, 8 a.m. and can end around 4 p.m.,” Black said. “There’s a certain give and take there.”
Talbert said he has encouraged Oak Hills residents to come to the committee meeting Tuesday to give their input.
“I told them we’re not discussing whether there should or shouldn’t be a pit. That’s over with,” Talbert said. “We’re discussing protections for Oak Hills and any others affected by these operations.”
Talbert said the Southern Aggregates pits next to Oak Hills are likely to be the last big, new mining operation in Watson.
“If we look at where the gravel is and where the open land is, I don’t think there’s any more area,” he said.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.