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Oct. 21, 2020

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Yacolt quarry rattles neighbors

Residents worry noise, water will worsen if mining operation expands

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:
8 Photos
Mining basalt rock is a heavy-duty business. At the Yacolt Mountain Quarry, trucks, frontloaders and other big machines move in-demand rock to market.
Mining basalt rock is a heavy-duty business. At the Yacolt Mountain Quarry, trucks, frontloaders and other big machines move in-demand rock to market. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

YACOLT — Gary and Marie Ogier recalled how their problems started when they saw a pile of dirt on top of Yacolt Mountain getting bigger. The couple, recent empty nesters, had moved about five years ago to a remote location north of Battle Ground about 2 miles away from Yacolt Mountain, the site of a large quarry.

Then came the noise. They said the rattle of mining equipment and trucks woke them up at 6 a.m. Sometimes they said there are loud blasts from the mine that they likened to an earthquake.

“I’ll tell you when it blasts, it shakes the entire foundation,” said Gary Ogier.

“This is bedrock,” added Marie Ogier.

The couple also complained of gritty dust blowing onto their house and rust-colored water coming out of their tap that they said tested high for minerals. They said they suspect both come from the mine.

Now the couple is worried their problems will get worse if the Clark County Council approves a proposed zoning change that could expand the footprint of the mine, which is operated by Kelso-based J.L. Storedahl & Sons. The Ogiers and other residents worry that if it’s approved, it’ll lead to more mining on the mountain along with an increase in noise, dust, truck traffic and environmental impact.

Bo Storedahl, a representative of the J.L. Storedahl & Sons said the proposed zoning change will actually help mitigate the concerns of residents while helping supply a much-needed product the county is running out of.

“I want to mitigate wherever possible,” said Storedahl.

The zoning change would apply a mining overlay to 107 acres of forestland owned by the company south of the mine. The overlay would provide enough room to store topsoil and gravel at the quarry so the company could access rock in the quarry said Storedahl.

In addition to expanding the longevity of the pit, Storedahl said the land will serve as a buffer between current residents and prevent new housing developments nearby. He said that moving the dirt pile on the land south of the pit will dampen noise and create a visual barrier.

He said the company purchased the property in 2016, has no current plans to mine in the proposed overlay and wouldn’t pursue any until the existing quarry is tapped out, which he said would be decades from now.

In support of the zoning change, J.L. Storedahl & Sons hired consulting company GeoDesign Inc., which produced a study concluding the county has seven to 21 years of reserves of aggregate needed for construction projects. The study, vetted by the department, concluded there was a “clear need” for more supply.

Storedahl said the state law is on the company’s side. He pointed to a provision in the Growth Management Act requiring counties to identify and protect mineral resource lands. A report from the county’s department of Community Planning recommended approving the overlay.

The quarry has long been the subject of legal and administrative battles over its location and scope. Like other mines, it’s been the target of complaints by neighbors. The proposed zoning change suffered a setback in August when the Clark County Planning Commission voted 5-2 against recommending that it be approved by the Clark County Council.

Concentrated supply

On a clear morning at the top of Yacolt Mountain, trucks bustled across the quarry hauling loads of basalt rock to the crusher, where they were moved by conveyor belts into cones and churned into gravel. Over the din of the crusher, Storedahl pointed to the piles of eight different kinds of gravel that he said are in high demand with the county’s building boom.

Of all the six quarries Storedahl operates, he said that this one is the largest and most productive, capable of producing up to 10,000 tons of aggregate a day. Storedahl said its viability will become more important as the county’s aggregate supply dwindles.

The study commissioned by J.L. Storedahl & Sons found that of the 25 permitted quarries and pits in Clark County, only nine are producing aggregate. Two of those are producing nonconstruction grade aggregate and four others are facing depletion in the next few years, according to the study. The Yacolt Mountain Quarry is by far the largest in Clark County with 34.5 million cubic yards of reserves, according to the study. The other eight have a combined 4.57 million cubic yards, according to the study.

“The county has concentrated the demand on the remaining mines,” said Storedahl.

But not everyone has been happy about meeting that demand. In 2013, Friends of the East Fork Lewis River filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the owner of the quarry violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants into the river. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree.

Dick Dyrland, president of Friends of the East Fork Lewis River, said his group is watching the mine closely and remains concerned about its impact on soil stability and water.

“There are other quarries that can be opened up and are in better sites,” said Dryland.

The study submitted by J.L. Storedahl & Sons states that the county’s aggregate reserves would be reduced before new mines could be permitted and opened.

Neighbors have also complained that the mine has affected their wells (but have had trouble providing proof), as well as about truck traffic. Last year, a loaded truck from the quarry barreled through a nearby intersection.

A transportation analysis found that the overlay “would not significantly impact the transportation system.” Storedahl said that the company has been in total compliance with the conditional use permit and wants to work with neighbors. He said blasts occur about every two weeks. He also said that trucking and mining are considered “nuisance industries” but are regulated by multiple federal, state and local agencies.

“I don’t control the demand, I just supply it,” he said. “I’m not a developer.”

Plan forward

At an August meeting of the Clark County Planning Commission, residents showed up to complain about speeding trucks from the mine, noise from blasts and potential environmental impacts. The commission seemed to take their concerns seriously.

Commissioner Bill Wright said he felt “there’s bad faith involved here on both the operator and from some of the past county employees.” Both he and Commissioner Robin Grimwade suggested the county investigate.

Commissioner Ron Barca said he thought the criteria to approve the overlay hadn’t been met. He said the county created the conflict by allowing residential use so close to the mine and it hasn’t considered the interests of the residents.

Others referenced how in 2014 the then county commission voted against a similar overlay due to concerns about topography, road access and endangered species. A county staff report states that mineral and forest uses are compatible uses under county zoning.

The Clark County Council will have the final approval. Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring, who represents the area, said in a text that she’s still considering the matter. Council Chair Marc Boldt said the council needs to look at the issue as a matter of “pure law” and not operational issues. He said he was inclined to support it.

“I think people don’t realize that under (the Growth Management Act) it’s our job to protect mining just as much as (agricultural) land and the environment as anything else,” he said.

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