A debated land-use violation
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources permitted mining on the site in February 1972, more than a decade before Congress tagged the Columbia River Gorge as a national scenic area in 1986.
In 1993, the Columbia River Gorge Commission issued a development review for the gravel pit, which allowed the mine to expand into neighboring property. The review acted as a permit and came with several conditions for it to remain active.
Among these factors was a provision noting that the permit would be invalid if mining stopped for a year or longer, according to previous reporting from The Columbian.
After years of no mining activity, Zimmerly and Nutter reopened the site in 2017 — leading locals and environmental groups to call the operations “illegal” because the permit was no longer applicable. They also didn’t obtain other land-use approvals, including National Scenic Area, surface mining and conditional use authorizations.
However, Zimmerly and Nutter continued to haul rock from the mine through 2020 — violating a tangle of previous rulings made by Clark County officials, the Gorge Commission and Clark County Superior Court. In December 2021, the court deemed the defendants, which included Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and residents living near the mine, as the prevailing group in the lawsuits.
Zimmerly and Nutter appealed the final order and continue to litigate in state and federal courts to resume mining.
Debate from neighbors has surrounded the mine.
Residents said they observed up to 200 trucks driving at unsafe speeds on narrow roads near their homes, leaving resounding rumbles and stirring up clouds of dust. Columbia River Gorge Elementary and Jemtegaard Middle schools sit nearby, underlining local safety concerns.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge represent the voices of those who can’t speak, notably natural spaces like Gibbons Creek and Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The environmental advocacy group contends that mining has and can lead to habitat disruption, particularly salmon habitats being affected by sediment-filled runoff.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.