A long public hearing came to an end Tuesday when the Lincoln County Planning Commission granted two rural Maxwell men a permit to excavate gravel from a small pit in the Platte River.
The planning commission gave unanimous approval to the excavation plan presented by landowners Bob Keller and Chris Jackson, despite emotional objections from several neighbors.
Neighbors are concerned about flooding, as well as wear and tear on a vital gravel road.
Keller and Jackson want to enlarge a small pond to two acres and make it about 15 feet deep, thereby creating a better fishing and recreation area. They plan to build a cabin near the pond when work is finished.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved the plan.
The hearing began a month ago. After more than two hours of testimony on June 14 with no resolution, the hearing was continued to the July meeting.
In the meantime, Keller met two requirements of the commission.
At the June 14 meeting, Keller, who has significant engineering experience, showed a computer model of the projected water level after the job is finished, which showed no increase in flooding.
The commission told him to get an independent, third-party verification of that. During the 30 days between the first and second hearings, Brent Burklund of TC Engineering in North Platte reviewed the model.
Burklund’ s model showed the planned excavation, if it were done before the major flood of 2015, would have raised the water level by only a quarter-inch. The model is based on elevations of the river, directions of the flows and the volume of water.
Keller also had the sand and gravel appraised, which showed the materials are commercial quality, thereby meeting another requirement of the planning commission.
Neighbor Don Goddard told the commission that similar work was done previously to a large pond further north, which narrowed the channel and increased flooding.
In response, Keller showed aerial photos of that pond from the years 1993, 2003 and 2009 and 2014. The photos showed the north pond looked the same over the years and no work was done there.
Keller, however, did shore up a bank of the smaller pond to the south in 2016 – the pond he now plans to enlarge.
The pond is next to an embankment that once supported Old Military Road, which once carried cavalry troops to and from the original Fort McPherson.
Old Military Road was abandoned many years ago and the bridge torn down, but the embankment on the south end of the old roadbed still stands in the river accretion land.
Keller said he expects the work would be finished in three years. Previously, the application said it could be done within three months.
Vern Hiatt, who will do the excavation, told the commission that it will be his first time to excavate a gravel pit, although he has operated heavy equipment in the river bottom before. He said he holds a contractor’s license, and hasn’t found that another license is required.
Hiatt said some of the excavated sand and gravel could be used to fill pivot irrigation tracks in crop fields.
Before the meeting was over, Goddard, who does similar work for Paulson’s Construction of Cozad, said Hiatt will need a miner’s ID number to legally do the work. Hiatt told the commission he hasn’t found that to be necessary, but would check again.
Neighbor Terry Hoban, who was escorted out of the room on June 14 for loudly interrupting others, told the commission Tuesday that the Lincoln County flood plain administrator (county surveyor) did not grant the proper permit for the work Keller did in 2016. Work proceeded anyway.
Hoban said the permit was apparently granted after the fact, and there is no date or permit number on the record.
In reply, Planning Commission Chairman Steve Koch said the commission does not have jurisdiction to prosecute for alleged previous illegal digging, but can only consider the application for future excavation.
Hoban also said a gravel truck could get hung up on the road, effectively closing it. He stressed the need to keep the road open for farmers. Koch said that could happen on any road.
After more than an hour of discussion, the commissioners voted 8-0 to approve the permit.
Under the terms of the permit, Keller, Jackson and Hiatt will be required to restore vegetation and remove all equipment when the work is complete.