Clark County sticks with status quo on mining

Livingston Mountain quarries' neighbors celebrate the decision

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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What a difference a month makes.

Residents of Livingston Mountain gave a standing ovation Tuesday to the Board of Clark County Commissioners. The showing of support followed a monthlong break between two hearings that, in part, were intended to decide whether to allow expanded mining operations on the mountain. Board Chairman Tom Mielke had abruptly ended a June meeting following several hours of public testimony, leading many residents at that meeting to boo him.

But in the end, commissioners voted to follow an advisory vote from the county's Planning Commission and not expand a "surface mining overlay" — delineating areas in which mining is permitted — on the mountain. Livingston Mountain is already home to two quarries, both operated by Kelso-based JL Storedahl & Sons Inc.

Residents had been concerned about adding more truck traffic to the mountain's narrow roads and about how close the quarries were to homes. Declining property values, environmental damage and noise were among the other complaints.

And while the existing mines will continue to operate, Tuesday's decision indicates a step away from the "blank check" residents feared commissioners would hand Storedahl.

David Mann, a land-use attorney working for a group of residents called Friends of Livingston Mountain, called the vote an early but important step. The state Growth Management Act will require the county to designate mining areas by 2016.

"We'll continue to monitor the policy to make sure that when they amend this, then we don't face this again," Mann said.

In recent weeks, Mann had written commissioners two letters outlining the residents' concerns. The second letter argued that the county could be potentially liable to neighboring property owners for damages related to nuisance and noise, dust and declines in property values.

John Dentler, an attorney for Storedahl, told commissioners Tuesday that the mining company would support taking pieces of Livingston Mountain out of the surface mining overlay, but the company was still considering 130 acres near its existing mine and in the proximity of the Camp Bonneville firing range.

The old firing range

There were new concerns brought up at Tuesday's meeting about the possibility of unexploded munitions near the Camp Bonneville firing range. The U.S. Army is continuing its multimillion-dollar clean-up of the site.

The area in question, on Livingston Mountain, was set to be included in the county's surface mining overlay.

Next steps for the county will include reviewing its policies and codes relating to mining operations.

The state Department of Natural Resources first drew up an inventory of mineral resources in 2005. In 2011, a local Mineral Lands Task Force began looking at the issue, with guidance from the state. A new map and code language were developed, and then the county went back to the drawing board in 2012, shortly before mining operations began ramping up on Livingston Mountain.

The recent attempts to expand mining operations had renewed long-standing fears about safety, home values and the environment. Mike Nerland, superintendent of the Camas School District, asked commissioners to "consider the safety of students and staff" who use the same roads as the mining trucks.

Addressing safety, Commissioner Ed Barnes said more could be done to improve traffic conditions, even without an expansion of mining operations.

He suggested the county investigate adding yellow lights to areas with short sightlines, and a stoplight at another heavily trafficked area of the road.

"I love this area as much as anyone," Barnes said. "I don't want to see it destroyed."