In response, the mine owner and operator appealed the hearing examiner’s decision in the Clark County Superior Court; the Friends group filed a motion to dismiss.
According to the conservation group, Zimmerly and Nutter have lost all 11 cases, appeals and motions for reconsideration in 2023. Tim Dobyns, the group’s communication director, said Zimmerly and Nutter have “exhausted all their options” on the county level — except for appealing Turner’s ruling.
If the appeal is denied, the Friends of the Columbia Gorge sees this as an indication that the nearly six-year legal battle and the three decadeslong odyssey is coming to an end.
“We’re excited to get it over with,” he said.
The Friends group filed its own appeal to the Gorge Commission — a body that oversees policies in the area, including land use disputes — on the basis that the hearing examiner’s decision contains errors, including a ruling that Zimmerly isn’t required to get permits for prior construction despite them already agreeing to comply. The commission will likely hear the case in 2024, according to the organization.
James Howlsey , an attorney for Zimmerly and Nutter, did not return calls for comment Monday.
A long debate
The Columbia River Gorge was designated a national scenic area by Congress in 1986, more than a decade after the Washington Department of Natural Resources permitted mining on the site in 1972.
In 1993, the Columbia River Gorge Commission issued a development review for the gravel pit, which acted as a permit and came with several conditions for it to remain active. Among the stipulations was a note that the permit would be nullified if mining halted for a year or longer.
Mining activity didn’t occur for decades until Zimmerly and Nutter reopened the site in 2017, where they hauled rock from the pit through 2020.
Locals and environmental groups deemed these operations “illegal” because of the permit’s defunct status — that and because the mining lacked needed land-use, surface mining and conditional use authorizations, according to previous reporting from The Columbian.
Consequently, Zimmerly and Nutter were accused of violating a series of previous rulings made by Clark County officials, the Gorge Commission and Clark County Superior Court.
In December 2021, the court decided that the defendants were the winning group in the lawsuits, including Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and residents living near the mining site. Both groups contend that mining operations have led to strain in the area, whether related to mining trucks frequenting narrow roads or sediment runoff flowing into salmon habitat.
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.