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HELENA - A district judge is considering ordering the state Department of Environmental Quality to issue a permit that would allow a proposed 111-acre gravel pit north of East Helena to begin operations.

If the state environmental department doesn't issue a permit by noon Wednesday for Helena Sand and Gravel, District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock said he would consider ordering the agency to do so.

The move would come a day before Lewis and Clark County commissioners are scheduled to consider zoning regulations that may have outlawed the gravel pit.

Critics worry the pit will contaminate or dry up groundwater supplies and disturb soil contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic and other toxins. They also argue that winds will spread contaminated dust to area homes and schools.

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Helena Sand and Gravel sued the DEQ on May 23, asking Sherlock to force the agency to issue the permit. The DEQ has recently lost several court cases in which judges ordered the agency to issue permits for gravel pits in Gallatin County without completing environmental studies.

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