Monday, January 27, 2020
Jan. 27, 2020

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Dispute focuses on gravel mine’s noise, permit process

Couple say mine near Gibbons Creek lacks conditional-use permit or land-use review

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:
4 Photos
Sean Streeter points toward a gravel pit across Gibbons Creek that he says has disturbed the peace and quiet his family has enjoyed living outside of Washougal. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
Sean Streeter points toward a gravel pit across Gibbons Creek that he says has disturbed the peace and quiet his family has enjoyed living outside of Washougal. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Sean and Karen Streeter remember when the loud beeping noises began.

The couple, who live with their two children on an idyllic 58 acres next to Gibbons Creek outside of Washougal, had returned from a trip late in October. At around 6 a.m., they said, they heard the beeping of construction equipment backing up. The sound permeated their home, including their bedroom, and was accompanied by a constant rumbling they likened to a passing freight train.

Across the creek is a 120-acre gravel mine operated by the Nutter Corporation that received its original extraction permit in 1972, according to Kevin Pridemore, the county’s code enforcement manager. The couple, who have lived on their property for 12 years, said that more housing as well as a new middle school have sprung up in the area.

He said that residents are now running up against a nearby mine that’s been busy responding to a rising gravel market.

“While they are making money, they are not following the public process,” said Sean Streeter. “They can’t trample over neighbors.”

The couple said the company hasn’t obtained a conditional-use permit required to process gravel at the site nor has it undergone a land-use review required for properties in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Jerry Nutter, the Nutter Corporation’s CEO, said his company took over the lease of the gravel pit owned by the Zimmerly family in September. He said that the previous holder of the lease hadn’t been actively mining.

“My understanding is that all regulatory permits were issued in 1972,” he said.

Pridemore said that the county is currently considering the matter and has referred materials to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for further review. He said that the county gave the company approval for extraction. Pridemore also said that a company needs a conditional-use permit to process gravel.

He said the company is operating a rock crusher, and it appears the county never gave them the green light to operate it.

“If it comes out they don’t have any approval for the rock crushers, then the likelihood is they will have a cease-and-desist order until they get the permit,” Pridemore said.

Nutter said the company does process gravel at the site, screening and washing it, but recently removed the rock crusher. He also said that the company has shortened its hours of operation and changed the alarms on equipment so they produce less noise in response to neighbors’ concerns.

According to a 2017 report from market research firm IBISWorld, the sand and gravel mining industry generated $16 billion in revenue and saw annual growth of 6.7 percent between 2012 and 2017. Pridemore said in an email that despite the rise in demand for gravel, this is the only complaint he has before him. He said that mining cases were previously handled by the since-dissolved Department of Environmental Services and he didn’t have details on the company’s track record.

Sean Streeter said that he often works from home as a sales representative and that his job involves working on detailed spreadsheets or dense contracts. He said the noise from the mine’s operations, which he said occurs on Saturdays, has been distracting. The couple said they worry about their home value.

“Everyone needs gravel,” said Streeter.

“We don’t want to stop the operation of the mine,” added Karen Streeter. “We want them to follow code. We want a chance to have a say.”

Applicants for conditional-use permits are required to hold a meeting with neighbors. The couple said that the company hasn’t held such a meeting, which they said would open up the lines of communication and allow for negotiations.

But there has been some negotiating. An email thread provided by Sean Streeter shows Russ Marks, a company manager, arguing that a section of the county code concerning surface mining only applied to new applications.

“This mine has been permitted since the 1970s and is not a new mining area,” wrote Marks. “However, we will continue to try and keep our noise levels to an acceptable level.”

The emails show that Marks agreed to stop crushing operations at 6 p.m. after Streeter pointed out that it’s required under county code. The exchanges eventually became increasingly testy after Streeter pressed Marks on reducing beeping noises from equipment.

Streeter said that the company recently replaced the noisy, beeping alarms on their equipment with quieter ones. But he said the problem still isn’t solved.

“Our problem here is, the county has rules,” he said. “And they seem to not be enforcing them with Nutter.”

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