Jefferson County, WA: Project pits jobs, ecology
• About 300 people turn out for a hearing involving Fred Hill Materials’ proposed huge gravel mining operation.
Union officials were on hand to remind the Jefferson County commissioners that the so-called pit-to-pier project would mean as many as 130 jobs to boost a rural economy.
The project, proposed by Fred Hill Materials, has galvanized residents in Jefferson and Kitsap counties. On Wednesday night, about 300 people poured into Chimacum High School auditorium to testify about whether the county commissioners should designate 690 acres near Shine as “mineral resource lands.”
Outside the building, supporters as well as opponents carried signs expressing their point of view.
“Jobs Plus Environment” stated signs held by supporters: “No Pit to Pier” was the message on the opponent’s placards.
Although the hearing was not specifically about plans to build a 4-mile conveyor belt and a 1,000-foot pier — which will be subject to future hearings — opponents argued fiercely that one cannot separate the two issues.
“There is no way to justify the scope of this mining area with a truck-only transport,” said John Fabian, who heads the leading opposition group, Hood Canal Coalition. “This thing is really all about the pit-to-pier, and Fred Hill Materials is not being up front about that.”
Tom Luce, an administrative assistant to U.S. Rep Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, read a letter from his boss agreeing with that sentiment.
“The board cannot consider the MRL (mineral resource lands) as an isolated action,” Dicks said in the statement. “I fear the project would unalterably change Hood Cana l.”
“The MRL is absolutely linked to the pit-to-pier project, and everyone knows it, including you guys,” Larry Mayes of Renton, a member of the Hood Canal Coalition, told the county commissioners.
Ron Helmonds of Port Ludlow said, “Hood Canal is suffering; it’s dying; and we cannot afford to let it continue.”
If the land-use change goes through, Fred Hill Materials would be allowed to operate a 40-acre active mining area.
Without the approval, the pit-to-pier project theoretically could move forward, but the active mining area would be limited to 10 acres.
Fabian contends the county commissioners need to take a stand now, because permits for the pit-to-pier project will all go before unelected officials, including the county hearing examiner.
Jim Tracy, attorney for Fred Hill Materials, criticized members of the coalition for misrepresenting the facts and using “purposefully inflammatory language” to stir up the community.
Considering the uproar at this point, he said, “the county is headed for a controversy of near biblical proportions” when the actual pit to pier project comes up for a formal hearning.”
The county commissioners approved the land-use change once before, but Hood Canal Coalition challenged the environmental impact statement for the project.
The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled that the environmental analysis was not sufficient, in part because it did not address issues of transportation, such as moving gravel all by truck or with barges as well.
Company officials contend that potential environmental problems for Hood Canal will be dealt with before the permits are issued.
And, contrary to what some believe, the pit-to-pier project will actually improve the environment of Hood Canal by providing gravel to restore beaches, according to company president Alex Hill.
Many beaches in Hood Canal have been stripped bare of gravel by unnatural wave action created by shoreline development.
Wednesday’s hearing was a continuation of a May 25 hearing, postponed by the commissioners when more than 120 people overfilled the courthouse courtroom and fire officials ordered at least 30 people out of the room.
At that point, the commissioners decided to reschedule the meeting for a place and time when everyone could be there.
Commissioners received 113 written comments since May 25, 111 of them opposed to the project.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Com. Glen Huntingford said the commissioners
would likely have a decision in the next week or two.
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