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Gravel pit near national park ranch resurfaces: US Forest Service says mine would have ‘no significant impact’ on area

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An idea for gravel pit once thought to be buried has been dug up again.

The U.S. Forest Service says there would be “no significant impact” associated with mining gravel less than a mile away from Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Elkhorn Ranch.

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Still, environmentalists have long argued that the project would undermine the land’s reputation as a bastion of the conservationist cause.

“We’re very concerned,” said Janinne Paulson, president of conservation non-profit Preservation North Dakota.

Roger Lothspeich of Miles City, Mont., and his partner, Peggy Braunberger, own mineral rights to the land, located near the ranch, about 25 miles north of Medora. The 26th U.S. president spent several years on the ranch during the 1880s.

Forest Service district ranger Ron Jablonski concluded in a new environmental report that noise and pollution would be minimal from new mining activity. The proposed gravel pit is remote — about three-quarters of a mile away from both the Little Missouri River and nearest residence.

The report estimates that the mining operation would take two to three years, with work lasting from April to November.

The Forest Service has owned the 5,200-acre ranch property since 2006, but failed to obtain its mineral rights from the original owners. The agency bought the land from the Eberts family for $5.3 million.

Braunberger first submitted an application for a gravel mine in 2008, according to the Service’s report. The next year, because of delays, Lothspeich offered to receive $2.5 million from the Forest Service, instead of mining. He was declined.

In 2012, Lothspeich signed an agreement to call off mine development, swapping for another parcel of federal land or other mineral rights. Jablonski said while no final deal for land or minerals has yet been established, his agency “hasn’t given up on the idea.”

Lothspeich has said that the gravel would go toward building roads to support North Dakota’s Bakken oil boom, according to previous Press stories.

Repeated calls to Lothspeich and Braunberger were not returned.

Billings County Commissioner Jim Arthaud said he agreed with the service’s decision because it respects the rights of private property owners.

“It should have been done right away,” Arthaud said.

Jablonski said his agency has identified 42 other mineral rights owners in the greater Elkhorn ranchlands. Few of them have expressed interests in using their rights to mine the land, though.

Jablonski said he hopes some will give their rights to the federal government to promote conservation.

The mining area would cover more than 19 acres, surrounded by a five-acre buffer zone. A fight for mineral rights on the 25-acre stretch of land.

Members of the public have 45 days to submit comments about the proposed gravel pit to the Forest Service. More information is available on the Forest Service’s website.

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