Earlier this year, Clark County notified Judy Zimmerly, the owner of the 120-acre property, and Nutter Corp., the holder of a lease on the property, that the mine is being operated without the necessary permits. The claim is currently being contested by lawyers for both parties.
Nathan Baker, senior staff attorney at Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said his group installed a camera on the road to record truck traffic from the pit. During a three-day period in June, the camera recorded 131 trucks each day, he said. By July 10, the count had increased to 226, he said.
Nutter could not be reached for comment by press time. But Steve Horenstein, a land-use lawyer representing Nutter, said in an email that a subcontractor hauler’s truck lost its brakes coming down the hill and it was fortunate that no one was hurt.
Grice takes Rusty, her family’s boxer, on a walk each morning where she sometimes sees as many as three trucks on the road. The truck traffic seems to have diminished since the accident, she said, but she remains concerned.
“To have 200 trucks a day is beyond excessive,” she said.
A question of permits
Operations have continued at the mine despite the county’s notices to Nutter and Zimmerly that the pit lacks the appropriate permits. Horenstein said he and Jamie Howsley, another land-use attorney representing Zimmerly, appealed in June the county’s actions to the hearings examiner, an outside attorney hired to evaluate whether the appropriate policies were followed by Clark County. The hearings examiner is expected to issue a decision in coming weeks.
“Our point is that this is a mine that should be regulated, and it can only be (regulated) to a permit — otherwise, nobody regulates,” Bill Richardson, Clark County deputy civil prosecutor, said during a hearing on July 17. “And we don’t see a valid permit that gives the mechanism for regulating the mining.”
Zimmerly was granted a permit by the state Department of Natural Resources in 1972 for 34 acres of mining. Richardson, however, pointed to documents he said demonstrate that Zimmerly indicated that mining ceased in 1984 and that the permit was discontinued.
During the hearing, Howsley said the site is regulated and subject to various environmental laws. He said the permit remains valid unless Zimmerly showed intent to abandon the mine. He also said the permit was reaffirmed in 1993 by the Columbia River Gorge Commission, which handles land-use decisions in the gorge.
“All of the evidence demonstrates time and time again that there was never an intent to abandon (the mine), there was no overt act to do so,” said Howsley, who explained that mining encompasses a wide range of activities including grading or storing of material. “Mining activities have occurred there and continue to occur there to the present day.”
In an interview, Horenstein explained that the hearings examiner is focused on the question of whether the mine has a valid permit. Friends of the Columbia Gorge unsuccessfully attempted to gain party status in the case in order to argue issues including the historical use of the site, applicable legal authorities and operational issues, such as truck traffic and safety.
Friends has filed a brief with the examiner, who has not signaled whether it will be considered.
‘One of our greatest fears’
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the dump truck crash occurred around 1:30 p.m. He said the truck was traveling more than 60 mph before hitting the rail line, which he said was pushed several feet after being struck.
He said the crash shut down the line for 12 hours and delayed 10 trains. He said the driver was taken to the hospital.
Grice said people may criticize her and other residents for moving near a mine and then complaining about it. But she said activity at the mine picked up after she and her family took up residence in February.
“When you buy this kind of property, you don’t think you’ll be having 200 trucks go by a day,” she said.
Wayne Ritter, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said he hasn’t seen much activity at the mine during the time he’s lived there, except for a period during the 1990s.
Sean Streeter, another resident who lives nearby and has complained about the noise, said he saw the aftermath of the crash and took pictures.
“We were fortunate on many levels,” he said in an email. He pointed out that the truck didn’t swerve into one of his neighbor’s homes nor did it collide with a bus full of students coming from a nearby school. “This could have been so much worse and could have caused an extreme tragedy to our community. This has been one of our greatest fears.”