Expansion of mining zones under review

Residents of Yacolt, Livingston mountain areas express concern

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter



Public meeting

• What: Clark County Planning Commission hearing on surface mining overlay.

• When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17.

• Where: Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

• What’s next: The planning commission will ultimately make a recommendation to Clark County commissioners.

A proposal to expand mining zones in Clark County is again working its way through public review, and again it's drawing an earful from worried residents.

The update to the county's "surface mining overlay" -- those are the areas in which mining is a permitted use -- could open the door to new or expanded operations in some rural parts of Clark County. Two specific areas, Livingston Mountain and Yacolt Mountain, have commanded much of the attention during the review process.

Residents of both areas have cited familiar concerns, including increased truck traffic, dust, noise, and impacts to local waterways and residential wells. Both areas have people living near existing quarries.

Mike Mabrey, a planner in the county's Community Planning department, said an expansion to the mining overlay isn't akin to a blank check. Any new operation would still have to be independently approved, he said.

"They'd have to go through all the environmental review and meet all the standards," Mabrey said.

But extending the overlay means an easier road for new mining in the future, said Livingston Mountain area resident Bob Weber. In much of the area now on the table, a quarry today would need to acquire a conditional use permit to get off the ground -- typically a more stringent process, he said.

"It's another layer of safety for the neighbors," Weber said, later adding that he'd like to see better monitoring and enforcement on existing quarries.

For Yacolt Mountain, the mining overlay proposal has renewed old worries surrounding the Yacolt Mountain Quarry that has long frustrated neighbors there. The proposed overlay includes waterways that drain into the East Fork Lewis River.

Water quality -- and quantity -- has been an issue for people with wells living near the quarry, said David Rogers. That concern extends to the health of the river itself, he said.

"If they go ahead and do that extension … you might as well kiss all of the East Fork goodbye, pertaining to steelhead," said Rogers, who lives near Yacolt Mountain.

It's premature to suggest that the new overlay zones would create new mining operations, Mabrey said. And the proposal itself still isn't final, he said.

The state Department of Natural Resources drew up an inventory of mineral resources in 2005. A local Mineral Lands Task Force began looking at the issue in 2011. A new map and code language was developed before the county went back to the drawing board last year.

A lot has changed since then, including a significant amount of land being removed from the original overlay proposal, Mabrey said. As recently as this week, a report found that parts of Livingston Mountain may not be feasible for mining because some local roads are unsuitable for truck traffic.

The issue is currently before the Clark County Planning Commission. At a workshop meeting Thursday, many audience members wore "Save Livingston" name tags. A public hearing on the subject will resume on Oct. 17.

The planning commission can amend the proposal in its recommendation, Mabrey said. The issue could land before the Clark County commissioners as early as next month.