Smaller zone for mining? Public comment opens Dec. 5

By Barney Burke
Leader Staff Writer


Jefferson County, WA - The Jefferson County Planning Commission's recommendation to create a Mineral Resource Lands (MRL) overlay zone for Shine Pit caught officials of Fred Hill Materials (FHM) by surprise Nov. 13.

The commission pared FHM's original request down from 6,240 acres to approximately 690 acres. That's about 75 acres less than the 765-acre option that company officials offered several weeks ago.

The revision came as a result of a suggestion by Community Development Director Al Scalf to exclude Thorndyke Creek following a field trip to the site Nov. 12 with planning commission members Jenny Davis and Eileen Rogers.

FHM's project manager, Dan Baskins, and the company's legal counsel, James Tracy, noted with visible displeasure that they had not been notified of Scalf's suggestion prior to the meeting. "We will have to evaluate it," Tracy said.

Scalf said this week that staff was under no obligation to give advance notice of the suggestion, which he announced at the beginning of the meeting. Because the public comment period related to the planning commission's recommendation on the project ended Oct. 1, neither FHM representatives nor the public were allowed to speak Nov. 13.

Fewer people showed up Nov. 13, and there were far fewer signs displayed by attendees. This time, the crowd appeared to have more proponents than opponents, and many seats remained empty.

The Hood Canal Coalition, which opposes FHM's plans for a pit-to-pier sand and gravel mining project, also expressed disappointment in the planning commission's decision. "Our expectations were low and they were exceeded," said John Fabian, a Shine resident and leader of the coalition.

Although many of the written comments raised the issue of the size of the proposed MRL, coalition leader Larry Mayes maintains that the smaller area does not ameliorate any of his group's concerns about potential impacts on the environment. It would still be the "largest mine in the state," Mayes said.

The commission's recommendation was approved 5-2. Tom McNerney, Eileen Rogers, Dwayne Wilcox, Edel Sokol, and Phil Flynn voted in favor. Davis and David Whipple voted "no." Commissioners Pat Rodgers and Todd McGuire were absent.

Approval of the MRL does not constitute approval of the pit-to-pier project, for which permits have not yet been filed. But if the MRL zone is approved by the Board of County Commissioners on Dec. 9, only staff-level actions by the county and by the state's Department of Natural Resources and Department of Ecology are required, according to county planning staff.

And while the entire 690 acres could be mined, only 20 to 40 acres would be mined at one time, according to Associate Planner Josh Peters. Without the MRL designation, no county permit is required if the mining area is under 10 acres, and only three acres can be mined at a time, he said.

Mitigation suggestions

An earlier motion by Whipple to condition approval of the MRL with a requirement that sand and gravel be transported exclusively by truck failed to garner a second.

"I'm still concerned that we're leaping in without looking," Whipple said after learning of Scalf's recommendation to deduct the Thorndyke Creek area. Wilcox disagreed, saying, "We can strive for a win-win for the next five years and still be looking at the same pile of paper. I don't think we can justify another year" by delaying the issue to the 2003 comprehensive plan amendment cycle.

Davis explained later that she voted against the recommendation because, like Whipple, she had concerns about the volume of new information coming to the commission without a commensurate opportunity for more public input.

Eileen Rogers tried to keep suggestions about the MRL decision separate from any project-related decisions. "We shouldn't even know about the bloody project," she said. However, Wilcox made a motion that the board of commissioners consider establishing a fee to fund the county's cost of monitoring and regulation that would be needed if the pit-to-pier is approved.

Wilcox's motion was approved 6-0, with Flynn abstaining.

Next public hearing

The Board of County Commissioners has elected to hold a public hearing on the MRL application at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Oscar Erickson Building at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Accordingly, the county is once again accepting written comments for the record, in addition to any comments made at the hearing.

The board of commissioners is slated to make its decision on the MRL at its regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 9.


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