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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County asked to OK gravel pit east of Washougal

Zimmerly, Nutter aim to revive mining east of Washougal

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 28, 2023, 6:04am
2 Photos
Trucks drive toward the Zimmerly gravel pit east of Washougal in July 2018. Operators of the pit, long the subject of opposition from neighbors and conservation groups, are seeking permission to keep extracting gravel from the site.
Trucks drive toward the Zimmerly gravel pit east of Washougal in July 2018. Operators of the pit, long the subject of opposition from neighbors and conservation groups, are seeking permission to keep extracting gravel from the site. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

A gravel pit that has been involved in years of disputes and lawsuits is in the public eye once again, as its owner and operator request approval to continue mining at the site.

Owner Judith Zimmerly and operator Nutter Corp. are seeking development permits from the Clark County land use examiner to conduct surface mining and material processing at the pit east of Washougal, 6303 S.E. 356th Ave., inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The county will review the application under the National Scenic Area Act, State Environmental Policy Act and other laws, which will determine whether the applicant will be required to prepare a full environmental impact statement.

To date, there have been two SEPA appeals, three public hearings and more than 275 public comments made related to the proposal, according to the hearing examiner’s office. The applicant halted the project after the latest public hearing in May 2021.

Those who wish to testify at the 6 p.m. Wednesday virtual public hearing must contact the Clark County community development department, commdevoalanduse@clark.wa.gov or 564-397-4489, no later than noon Wednesday. Following the public hearing, the record will remain open for at least a week for others to provide written testimony.

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.

Environmental concerns

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.

Community Funded Journalism logo

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, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer