Proposals to mine rock from three sites in Skagit County have neighbors of the sites on edge. 

As of this week, Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford is reviewing a mine proposal for an area south of Anacortes and the state Department of Natural Resources has decided to extend a comment period for a mine proposal near Marblemount. 

A third proposal, for mining in an area northwest of Sedro-Woolley, is under review by Skagit County Planning and Development Services. 

Each has been met with concern from residents who live near the sites. 

Concerns are over the health of the residents, which could be impacted by noise and dust, as well as the safety of those who would share roads with trucks hauling mined material. The health of the environment is of concern, too. 

EXPANDING LAKE ERIE MINE 

Southwest of Lake Erie, tucked in a curve of Rosario Road, the owner of Lake Erie Pit has proposed tripling the business's capacity to extract gravel and sand from the hilly, forested landscape of Fidalgo Island. 

That would increase the footprint of the mine from 17.7 acres to 53.5 acres, according to project documents. It would allow the pit to produce 60,000 tons of material a year over a 60-year period, and the material would be hauled from the site in up to 13 trucks per day. 

The proposal has been met in recent weeks by an outpouring of concern and staunch opposition from residents who live in the area. 

"We're really concerned about the increase in truck traffic, noise, dust and pollution," Edith Point Road resident David Hulton said. 

Hulton and several other area residents of spoke during an Oct. 14 online hearing with Dufford, who is reviewing the special use permit application submitted to Skagit County Planning and Development Services in December 2016. 

Neighbors who spoke at the hearing were joined by representatives of the regional nonprofit Evergreen Islands and a geologist, who while not a local himself said he felt compelled to provide testimony.

"I've done geology consulting for the last 35 years and I've turned down ever participating in opposition to a gravel mine until today," licensed engineering geologist Dan McShane said. "In this particular case I was, and still am, very concerned about the impacts of groundwater flow and volume and the impact to deep-seated landslides."

In reviewing the area for past projects on which he has consulted, McShane said he became familiar with the landslide risk in the vicinity of the proposed mine expansion. He pointed Dufford to a state map of landslide hazards.

"It shows that there are unstable slopes ... immediately adjacent to the mine site," McShane said, also pointing out places where sand layers have in the past collapsed under the weight of groundwater. "This is something that was just overlooked and missed and I think it is really, really critical that it is looked at."

Residents of the area said they've come to believe that not only is their idyllic south Fidalgo Island lifestyle at risk, but also their lives.

"I can't envision in any way how our area and our neighborhood won't be impacted by this," Abby Jacobs said. "I'm worried there could be a tragic outcome if we have a landslide."

Others who spoke included parents of children whose school bus stops are on the already busy Rosario Road, a real estate agent who spoke about likely impacts to property values, and a pastor who pleaded with Dufford to protect the community.

Noise and dust from a larger mine, along with trucks rumbling down roads, could also interfere with a sector of the economy that's particularly strong in this area: Tourism.

Many who spoke emphasized the pit mine's location is not far from from Deception Pass State Park, the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and Highway 20 along the scenic Cascade Loop. Area roads are also part of the county's recommended bike routes in and out of Anacortes and included on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.

Bill Wooding, the owner of the property, said the mine has been in operation since the 1930s and under his ownership since the 1960s. 

"In that 60 years we've met the supply and demand of all the properties and projects that have gone on in Anacortes and on Fidalgo Island," Wooding said.

Continuing that is a reason for the expansion.

"Sand and gravel is used in almost every project that has construction involved, so if you're concerned about clean air and things, keep the trucks coming from the shortest distance," Wooding said.

He also indicated that while the permit he seeks would allow him to mine up to 3.6 million tons of materials over 60 years, demand for mined materials ebbs and flows, as has been evidenced by quiet years at the pit following the 2008 recession.

"It has never not been in operation, but it's on supply and demand," he said of pit operations.

In 2018, Skagit County Planning and Development Services determined the proposal does not have significant impacts under the State Environmental Policy Act that could not be mitigated. 

The county department has since recommended approving the permit, but the final decision is up to Dufford. 

He said he expects to issue a written decision within the next several weeks. 

ESTABLISHING A CONCRETE NOR'WEST MINE 

In December 2016, Dufford held a hearing regarding a proposed gravel mine not far from the Samish River northwest of Sedro-Woolley. 

There, the company Concrete Nor’west proposes converting a 68-acre wooded area into a mine. The company estimates it would haul 4.3 million cubic yards of gravel from the site over 25 years, which could result in an average of 46 truck trips — 23 empty and 23 full — through the area each day.

Area residents formed the Central Samish Valley Neighbors group to oppose the proposed mine, which was tied up in a county-level appeal process for much of 2018 and 2019.

The proposal is now being revisited, with additional traffic studies being completed this year. 

CHANGES FOR CASCADE BIG BEAR MINE

The Washington Geological Survey under the state Department of Natural Resources is reviewing a proposal from Cunningham Crushing to mine 9.6 acres near Marblemount. The plan is to remove 1.2 million tons of material over about 20 years at a property called the Cascade Big Bear Mine. 

The proposal is in the vicinity of where Skagit County Planning and Development Services received a proposal in January 2019 from Kiewit Infrastructure to establish a 79-acre rock mine.

That proposal was withdrawn in September 2019 following stiff opposition from residents — some of whom formed the Skagit River Alliance — as well as from tribes and environment groups. 

Natural Resources spokesperson Joe Smilie said the new proposal is for a smaller and less intensive mining operation. 

"That one was a lot more intensive. They would have gotten into the face of the cliff there," he said of the proposal involving Kiewit. 

The new proposal involves removing talus — according to a U.S. Geological Survey definition rock that has fallen, rolled or slid to the base of a cliff or slope — that has accumulated to heights of up to 800 feet, according to project documents. 

"Talus collected at base of cliff face will be processed and removed from the site ... No work will occur in bedrock below the talus or in the cliff wall," documents state. 

The work could involve using equipment to crack or blast large rock into smaller pieces, as well as for crushing. Operations are expected to occur six to eight months per year during a five-day workweek staffed by six workers. Up to 12 trucks per day could haul material from the mine. 

Smilie said the project application was received July 30. Natural Resources issued a determination of nonsignificance under SEPA on Sept. 22.

Notices were sent to property owners in the area and posted to state websites in accordance with SEPA rules, and a public comment period was held Sept. 28 to Oct. 12. 

Jose Vila of Skagit River Alliance said many in the area who opposed the Kiewit mine proposal weren't aware of the latest plan and missed the two-week comment period. 

Smilie said the Department of Natural Resources began hearing from residents last week. 

"We did get contacted by some neighbors in the area and some tribal officials after the comment period had closed, who said they weren't aware of it and wanted more time to comment," Smilie said. "We have decided to just kind of push pause at the moment and give them that chance."  

A closing date for the re-opened comment period has not been set.

MORE STEPS AHEAD

All mining proposals require county pemits as well as surface mining reclamation plans from the state. 

If approved by Skagit County, the Lake Erie and Samish River area mines will need approval of surface mining reclamation plans from Natural Resources.

Smilie said the Marblemount area proposal received county authorization in 2006, so requires only a reclamation plan to move forward. 

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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