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Gianforte signs bill deregulating gravel pits

Daily Inter Lake | May 20, 2021 12:00 AM

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed a bill easing regulations on open-pit gravel mining after opponents warned it could have severe effects on water quality and water rights, and drag down neighboring property values by allowing for more dust and round-the-clock noise disturbances.

House Bill 599, sponsored by state Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby, passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature on near-party-line votes. Gianforte signed it into law on Friday along with dozens of other bills.

Proponents of the bill, including representatives of the Montana Contractors Association and the Montana Association of Counties, said it would remove red tape and redundancies to speed up the permitting process for open-pit gravel mining, making the final product cheaper for use in roads and other infrastructure.

Opponents — a diverse group that included neighbors of gravel pits, the Montana Building Industry Association, the Montana Environmental Information Center, Montana Trout Unlimited and the Montana Association of Realtors — said they understand the need for gravel and don't oppose all open-pit mining.

But the opponents took issue with sections of the bill that remove the Department of Environmental Quality's ability to regulate noise and visual disturbances at gravel pits, as well as provisions related to groundwater, fire suppression and public input in the environmental review process.

In an email Wednesday, Gianforte spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke said HB 599 "balances necessary resource development with appropriate environmental protection and local control." She also pointed to one section of the bill that "allows for appropriate zoning regulations that can reasonably condition the use of property for gravel."

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4439 or