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March 23, 2023

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Update to Clark County surface mining map stirs concern, criticism

Chelatchie Bluff-area residents thought avenue for potential gravel mine was closed

By , Columbian staff writer
2 Photos
A motorist traveling on Northeast Healy Road passes a sign notifying neighbors about renewed Clark County procedures that could eventually lead to gravel mining.
A motorist traveling on Northeast Healy Road passes a sign notifying neighbors about renewed Clark County procedures that could eventually lead to gravel mining. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Residents near Chelatchie Bluff thought an application that could someday allow surface mining of gravel on 330 acres near their homes was dead.

After all, the Clark County Council held a public hearing on the application March 15 and then took a vote — which failed to pass.

But recently, neighbors spotted a sign advertising a July 19 rehearing by the county council.

The residents had good reason to believe the matter had been put to rest when the motion failed to gain the necessary three votes. But Councilor Gary Medvigy asked county attorney Christine Cook if the issue could be reconsidered when the council, which only had three members present on March 15, could meet with at least four councilors present.

Any motion made by the five-member council must have a minimum of three votes to pass. At the March 15 meeting, Medvigy and Council Chair Karen Bowerman voted for it; Councilor Temple Lentz voted against. Without three “yes” votes, the motion failed.

“My office has looked into the issue of reconsideration. In order to have a valid motion for reconsideration … the motion to reconsider must come from the side that prevailed in the first place,” Cook said. “It could not come from a councilor voting for the motion.”

But the losers prevailed Tuesday. Councilor Richard Rylander Jr., who joined the council in May, made a motion to “renew the motion that was initially made and defeated on March 15 … for the purpose of conducting a public hearing on the request.”

In a July 15 email, Medvigy wrote the prosecuting attorney’s office had come up with the procedure to reconsider the application.

“I had requested we change our reconsideration procedures to better address 2-2 and 2-1 votes. Robert’s Rules (of Order) are inadequate for a legislative body under these narrow and inconclusive votes,” Medvigy wrote.

A long debate

Gravel mining has long been a contentious issue in Clark County.

In this case, opponents say the Chelatchie Bluff area, which lies east of Amboy and south of Lake Merwin, contains environmentally sensitive wetlands that would be devastated by any kind of mining.

Granite Construction is leasing land from BRP, LLC, a subsidiary of Natural Resource Partners, and wants to mine rock aggregate.

In 2011, the county appointed a Mineral Lands Task Force to make recommendations to the surface mining overlay map, comprehensive plan policies and development standards based on the new inventory map and Growth Management Act regulations. While the task force did not recommend including the four Chelatchie Bluff parcels, it did recommend adding a 30-acre parcel that abuts the Chelatchie Rock quarry. That quarry’s permit was terminated by the state Department of Natural Resources.

It’s not just residents concerned about mining activities at Chelatchie Bluff. The Friends of Clark County previously appealed the determination of non-significance issued during the State Environmental Policy Act review.

Ann Foster, vice president of Friends of Clark County’s board of directors, said there are three major points of contention. The first is the reconsideration of the application and the process for that reconsideration. The second is environmental and livability impacts from mining in this area, which she said has been overlooked. The third is a lack of public engagement by the county.

“This is the central theme throughout most of the county’s issues,” Foster said.

With the county providing legal notice only to residents within 1,000 feet of the property, Foster said the Friends group reached out to make more people aware of what’s happening.

Jim Byrne, a retired fish biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, has studied fish populations in Chelatchie Creek and Cedar Creek for years.

“The Department of Fish and Wildlife has designated streams there as critical habitat. There’s three endangered fish species that live there. The county has identified unstable slopes, landslide areas, on their maps. There’s wetlands. But when it comes to putting this forward, the county issues a determination of non-significance,” Byrne said. “That just doesn’t fly in the face of reality.”

Richard Dyrland, a former hydrologist, is also on the board of Friends of Clark County and Friends of the East Fork Lewis River. Dyrland said it’s not just the wetlands that will be at risk but also the watershed, which provides water to several cities.

“They basically ignored a lot of key things on surface and groundwater. The (U.S. Geological Survey) did a report on that area … that said this watershed in particular is very unique in the area in that most of the water that supports these (threatened and endangered) species comes from the upper one-fourth of the watershed,” Dyrland said.

Down the line

Councilor Julie Olson said concerns about mining in the area are valid, but they would be considered and addressed if and when Granite Construction seeks a conditional use permit for mining.

“We’re not approving a mine. We’re not approving a project. We are approving an amended map update to the comprehensive growth management plan and zoning maps to add a surfacing mining overlay. Any future project, any future mining activities, has to go through a complete process — more extensive than what we heard this evening,” Olson said. “I appreciate the concerns of those in the area. They’re valid and those will all be valid when the time comes and the applicant presents a request for mining activity.”

Medvigy said there are rules and processes in place to address environmental concerns but “we’re not there yet.”

Rylander also noted there is a real need for aggregate in the county and said perhaps siting a mine here could alleviate the problem without introducing the noise, traffic and environmental impacts seen at other mines in the county.

“This facility could potentially make use of the railroad in some fashion and get those trucks off the road,” he said.

Although Rylander earlier abstained from voting on another matter because he said he wasn’t on the council when the matter was first discussed, he did not voice similar reservations about voting on the surface mining overlay application.

The council voted unanimously to approve the overlay. Councilor Temple Lentz was absent.

For more information about the Chelatchie Bluff mining overlay, go to