County mining rules to be re-evaluated

Expansion proposal draws earful from worried residents

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

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A proposal to expand mining zones in Clark County is going back to the drawing board after planners heard an earful from worried residents.

The update would expand Clark County’s surface mining overlay — that is, the areas where mining is potentially allowed — mostly in the east and north parts of the county. Changes largely mirrored a 2005 inventory of mineral resources drawn up by the state Department of Natural Resources. A local Mineral Lands Task Force began looking at the issue last year.

A new map and code language was scheduled to go before the county Planning Commission this month. But at a July open house attended by almost 100 people, residents offered concerns they said need to be addressed first, said county planner Michael Mabrey. That prompted officials to cancel an Aug. 16 hearing and do more work on the proposal.

Among citizens’ worries: making sure the overlay doesn’t endanger the East Fork of the Lewis River and other waterways, improving enforcement of rules on existing mining operations before potentially opening up more land, and reducing impact to rural residential areas. Some said people who own property don’t always own historic mining claims on the same land.

“It was kind of a broad range of issues,” Mabrey said.

Plenty of people hailed from the Livingston Mountain and Yacolt Mountain areas, Mabrey said. That’s where quarry operations have already caused neighbors headaches, and threatened the quality — and quantity — of their well water in some cases.

Hurdles would remain

Mabrey said expanding the county’s mining overlay doesn’t automatically open those areas up to new blasting and drilling. Any proposed operation would still have to clear the same hurdles and scrutiny as others.

“Essentially, all it does is add surface mining as a permitted use. You still have to go through the permitting process,” Mabrey said. “It’s not exactly a blank check.”

Clark County last updated its mining rules and overlay map in the mid-1990s. Planners are working on a revision in part due to new state rules and the recently identified resources, Mabrey said. The process could wrap up as soon as next year, well before the county’s next comprehensive plan update, due in 2016, he said.

At this point, “there is no proposed map,” Mabrey said. The task force will reconvene this fall to come up with a new version that could scale back the potential mining areas. The initial map placed the mining overlay on both identified and “hypothetical” resources. That may not be the case the second time around.

The earlier map and rules were intended to be a draft, not a final product, said Richard Dyrland, a member of the task force that helped shape them. The ultimate goal is finding the right balance between natural resources and the economic needs of the area, he said.

“There are alternatives, and there’s room to adjust,” Dyrland said.

Future open house meetings or hearing dates will depend on the progress the task force makes later year, Mabrey said. Any final proposal will have to go through the Clark County commissioners for approval.

“We may be getting to the hard part now,” Mabrey said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.

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