The Washington Department of Natural Resources has issued a stop-work order to Clark County and a company it contracts with to operate a quarry that’s long been the subject of public complaints.
Kenny Ocker, a department spokesman, confirmed that the stop-work order was issued Wednesday to Clark County and Tower Rock Products, a subsidiary of Tapani, Inc.
Ocker said in an email that the stop-work order stemmed from a notice the department sent to the county in November, describing multiple violations that include rock being extracted outside of the permitted area, improper stockpiling of material, lack of proper insurance by Tower Rock, reclamation methods being used by the company, as well as the company’s plans for revegetation of the site and stormwater protection.
Darren Cahoon, Tapani general manager, said that the company has nothing to hide, and it’s working through some unresolved issues with the county.
“It’s not that big of a story,” he said.
The quarry is divided into two sites and is operated through a related chain of contracts with different companies. One site is owned and operated by Tower Rock. The Department of Natural Resources owns the other site and leases it to Clark County. The county, in turn, contracted with Tower Rock in 2011 to mine its portion of the quarry. Tower Rock contracts with J.L. Storedahl & Sons to operate both sides of the mine.
While Kevin Tapani, the company’s vice president, said that it renewed its contract with the county to operate the mine, the county disagrees. The Department of Natural Resources isn’t convinced there’s a legitimate agreement in place to operate the quarry and that ongoing issues at the quarry remain unresolved.
“The default notice was issued because Clark County was not in compliance with the conditions of its lease with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for the Livingston Quarry,” Ocker said in an email.
County Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi did not respond to a request for comment.
Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring said that the council had spoken about the quarry in executive session and couldn’t comment further. She referred questions to county Manager Shawn Henessee and Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Emily Sheldrick who responded with a brief statement: “It is the county’s understanding that Tower Rock has ceased operations in response to DNR’s stop-work order. The county will work diligently with DNR and Tower Rock to address the issues raised by DNR.”
While both Tapani and the county downplayed the stop-work order, records obtained by The Columbian show that both parties, as well as the Department of Natural Resources, had disagreed for months on management of the site, which has been a large source of complaints about truck traffic and a lack of oversight.
‘That needs to stop immediately’
The Department of Natural Resources manages 3 million acres of trust lands that provide revenue for schools and county services by harvesting timber and mining leases, including the Livingston Quarry. The quarry is one of the most depleted mines in the county with only 15,000 cubic yards of material left, according to a report released last year by a consultant hired by J.L. Storedahl & Sons.
In July 2018, Janet Ballew, assistant division manager in the department, wrote to Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney William Richardson and Kevin Tapani, raising concerns about the management of Livingston Quarry.
“We cannot enhance another’s benefit to the detriment of the trust,” she wrote.
Ballew wrote that J.L. Storedahl & Sons, contracted by Tower Rock, improperly removed rock from state land outside of a surface mining permit boundary in a 150-by-170 foot area of about 20,740 yards of rock without compensating the department for the rock. She also wrote that the company was stockpiling rock from its side of the quarry on state land without authorization.
She asked for verification that the company was in compliance with its conditional-use permit and stormwater pollution protection plan, as well as proof of insurance. She also wrote that its proposed plan for revegetation was “minimal and non-specific.”
Ballew also wrote that the contract between Clark County and Tower Rock expired in December 2017. But because the county hadn’t taken action to discontinue operation of all the activities taken by Tower Rock and Storedahl, they “are authorized by Clark County and (were) undertaken on its behalf.”
LeAnne Bremer, an attorney for Tower Rock, responded in September with a letter saying the company had exercised an option to renew its contract with Clark County for another five years and that the county was receiving payments under the agreement. She also wrote that the company was resolving the issues identified by Ballew.
Richardson responded to Bremer in October writing the county disagreed that the contract was renewed, and Tower Rock was operating at the quarry on a month-to-month basis. He wrote that the county offered a proposed amendment seeking to expedite the extraction of the rock and limit the number of truck trips, which Tower Rock did not accept. He wrote that the county met with representatives of the company to discuss “significant public complaints about Tower Rock’s operations at the site.” Specifically, he wrote that the company’s conditional-use permit requires it to provide written notice of any short-term peak production.
“Despite your client’s frequent operations in short-term peak production, the county has never received the required written notice,” Richardson wrote. “In the absence of written notice your client is limited to 70 loaded truck trips per day from the site. Your client has consistently operated in excess of that limit. That needs to stop immediately.”
Tapani told The Columbian that there are questions about what exactly constitutes peak production. He also said the company has been delayed in extracting remaining rock over complications posed by having to move around a wall set up to buffer noise from the pit. He also said the company has the right insurance and that it will send an updated revegetation plan to the department, and is resolving the issue about unauthorized storage of materials and other issues.
“The quarry is almost tapped out,” he said. “We are working our way through it.”
But in November, the department sent the county a “notice of default” letter. The notice stated that the contract had expired. While the activities were authorized by Clark County “the nature of that authorization seems to be in dispute.” The letter further stated that the county was in default with its agreement with the Department of Natural Resources to mine the quarry and that many of the issues identified earlier hadn’t been addressed, including payment for improperly removed rock by Tower Rock.
Jake Thomas: 360-735-4515; firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/jakethomas2009