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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Columbia River Gorge gravel mine east of Washougal is denied

Examiner says Zimmerly project’s ‘haul road’ prohibited by scenic-area zoning

By , Columbian staff writer

A Clark County hearings examiner has denied an application for development permits for a controversial gravel mine in the Columbia River Gorge east of Washougal.

In his 72-page ruling, Hearings Examiner Joe Turner wrote that the land-use application was incomplete under National Scenic Area rules, that the proposal to operate a mining “haul road” in a residential area is prohibited by National Scenic Area zoning, and that the project could not proceed without an environmental impact statement.

Turner said the “impacts from noise, dust, mine trucks (that) experience equipment failure and impacting trains south of the site, and enforcement of conditions of approval” needed further study.

Had it been approved, the application would have allowed surface mining and materials processing at the pit at 6303 S.E. 356th Ave., inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The application was submitted by Vancouver attorney Jamie Howsley on behalf of site owner Judith Zimmerly and operator Nutter Corp.

Howsley had requested site plan, conditional use and gorge permit approval for mining operations, including rock crushing and transportation of aggregate material, on a roughly 122-acre tract. Gravel extraction and processing would have been limited to a 74-acre portion of the land. The remainder of the site would contain stormwater facilities, buffers, and a private haul road that connected the site to Southeast Evergreen Highway and provided access to nearby residential properties.

Howsley did not return calls for comment Friday.

In his ruling, Turner said a pre-hearing brief from Howsley noted that the development permit application was submitted “under protest” because the “property owner and operator believe they have the right to continue historic mining activities on the site.”

But neighbors and the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge don’t agree. They say mining has been taking place illegally at the site for some time.

“The illegal mining operations on the Zimmerly property were a noise, traffic, and dust nightmare for my family and our neighbors,” Gorge resident Karen Streeter said in a press release Friday. “We are grateful to Friends of the Columbia Gorge for protecting our community and to the many judges and government officials who have put an end to this nightmare by upholding the law.”

A long process

Turner’s ruling is only the latest in a long list of applications, denials, court rulings and appeals. According to the Friends group, Zimmerly and Nutter have lost in litigation before 12 gorge commissioners, three Superior Court judges, three state court of appeals judges and one federal judge.

One court case remains pending. In May, Zimmerly and Nutter filed a petition for review at the Washington Supreme Court. That petition is expected to be decided in September.

Brent Davis, land-use manager for Clark County, said Zimmerly and Nutter could also appeal the hearings examiner’s ruling.

“If the applicant chooses to appeal, that appeal will go to the (Columbia River) Gorge Commission and will be heard by that entity,” Davis said Friday.

Depending on the outcome of an appeal, the next step would be to take the matter to the courts. Davis said Zimmerly and Nutter have one other option to consider.

“The applicant has the option, with the current decision, to wait a year and reapply,” Davis said. “They could modify their application and reapply if they chose to do so.”

Davis said county code requires applicants to wait a full year after an unfavorable ruling to reapply.

“The hearings examiner rightly concluded that the Zimmerly gravel mine will result in significant adverse impacts, thus requiring a full environmental impact statement,” attorney Bryan Telegin, who represents several neighbors and the Friends group, said in the press release.

Telegin said the mining project itself is a significant adverse impact.

“It would insert a large-scale industrial use in the gateway to a world-renowned national scenic area, next to a regionally significant national wildlife refuge, on a site with designated critical habitat,” Telegin said. “The project would clash with surrounding uses and violate zoning laws. The project would radically transform a quiet residential area with two grade schools into a loud industrial landscape, disrupting the community and threatening public health, safety and welfare for decades to come.”