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Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Nov. 28, 2023

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Clark County Council votes to retain surface mining overlay in Chelatchie Bluff mineral lands

Community Planning director says county ‘in violation of state law’

By , Columbian staff writer

Granite Construction’s surface mining operations in the Chelatchie Bluff mineral lands in the northeast corner of Clark County may not be dead after all.

On Tuesday, the Clark County Council voted 3-2 to retain a surface mining overlay on 330 acres designated for mining operations until an appeal filed with the state Court of Appeals is heard.

The appeal follows a March 23 ruling by the state Growth Management Hearings Board that found the county had “failed to conduct an adequate State Environmental Policy Act analysis” and improperly declined to require a more in-depth study of potential impacts when Granite Construction requested the zoning change.

Oliver Orijako, director of Community Planning, told the council the ruling means the county is not in compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act. Orijako said county staff asked that the council repeal the ordinance, which added the surface mining overlay to the county’s comprehensive plan zoning map.

“Whether we agree with it or not, we are in violation of state law,” Orijako told the council.

County attorney Christine Cook said the county being out of compliance with state law could have a financial impact.

“When the growth board finds that a county action is noncompliant with the Growth Management Act and invalid, that can render the county ineligible to apply for or receive certain state grants and loans,” Cook told the council. “That, in fact, occurred the last time the county’s actions were determined to be noncompliant and invalid.”

Councilor Sue Marshall said the county has quite a few grant and loan opportunities coming up related to climate change, the Comprehensive Plan update, public works and broadband access that she wouldn’t want to see put at risk.

Councilor Gary Medvigy said the county did not violate the law, but he argued that the hearings board overstepped its authority by creating law.

“The Growth Management Board is not empowered to create law. There is no win here.”

Medvigy said the county’s “normal” process is to do an environmental study when there is a project to review, not when a zoning change is requested. He said requiring two costly environmental reviews, one when the zoning change is requested and another when a conditional use permit is applied for, would be too costly.

“It’s just not tenable,” Medvigy said, adding he looks forward to the appellate court ruling.

Medvigy also said the county needs to ensure local sources for aggregate materials used in construction and road projects are available. Having local sources for those materials will save money, reduce wear and tear on roads and trucks, and reduce pollution from trucks.

Ridgefield attorney David McDonald, who represents Friends of Clark County, which appealed the council’s approval of the surface mining overlay to the hearings board in September 2022, said whether the county has enough aggregate for road projects shouldn’t matter.

“It sounds like the applicant, the lawyers for the applicant and the aggregate association want to re-litigate what has already been litigated and that what the board found is incorrect,” McDonald told the council. “It’s not about how much rock we have in Clark County, how much rock we need in Clark County or whether or not this would stop rock from coming to Clark County … all of those are just not relevant. The relevant determination is, should you — as an elected body who swore to uphold the laws of the state — act in compliance with the law.”

Chair Karen Bowerman, Councilor Michelle Belkot and Medvigy voted  in favor of retaining the ordinance while Councilor Glen Yung and Marshall voted against.

To watch the full hearing, go to https://www.cvtv.org.

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