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Controversy over 'unacceptable' gravel mining project grows

The Mirror

The state Shoreline Hearings Board has given the go-ahead for construction of a mining-related dock in a sensitive shoreline area on Maury Island, but opponents plan to file an appeal of the ruling in King County Superior Court.

The Nov. 3 ruling in support of Glacier Northwest is seen as an integral component to the company’s plan to expand its mining operation from the current level of 10,000 tons of gravel a year to more than 7 million tons a year as market demands.

Glacier Northwest has owned and operated the gravel and sand mine on Maury Island since 1936. Since 1971, Glacier has maintained permits to mine 10,000 tons of gravel a year from a 235-acre wooded site on the island.

Increased mining activity is opposed by Maury and Vashon island residents for environmental reasons. Critics say the noise and increased maritime traffic would be bad for pods of orca whales and would harm the quality of life for islanders.

Critics also say people on the Federal Way and Des Moines side of Puget Sound could hear the noise and see the sights of tugboats, trucks and barges, including nighttime activity lit by lights.

Opponents of the project have the support of King County Councilman Dow Constantine, whose district includes the islands, and County Executive Rom Sims.

They said last week the county was preparing to take legal steps to uphold its denial of two shoreline permits to Glacier Northwest.

The project’s potential environmental impact is “unacceptable,” Sims said.

In 1997, Glacier submitted permit applications to expand its gravel mining up to 7.3 million tons of gravel a year, though company vice president Ron Summers has said he anticipates actual mining to run closer to 2 million or 3 million tons a year. The company would install a large, portable conveyor belt to move the mined material to the shore, where it would be loaded into barges at the end of a new, longer dock.

To build the dock, replacing a dilapidated one that juts from the shore, Glacier needs shoreline permits –– the two King County denied in March and the Shoreline Hearings Board recently approved. Without the dock, it’s unlikely Glacier would be able to mine as much material because the company would have to truck it across the island to ferry terminals to get it to the mainland.

The county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services denied Glacier’s shoreline permit application last March. Glacier appealed to the Shoreline Hearings Board in August.

Members of the board are appointed by the governor and the state commissioner of public lands. The board also includes representatives from the Washington Association of Cities and the Washington Association of Counties.

The new dock/barging facility is in an area that is part of the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. The county contends Glacier’s proposed expansion isn’t allowed in a conservancy shoreline environment. Environmental organizations, including People for Puget Sound, Preserve Our Islands and the Washington Environmental Council, have voiced similar opposition.

Sims said an oil spill last month in Dalco Passage that “soiled” shorelines on Vashon and Maury islands “is an important reminder of how critical this area is. Glacier’s proposal is unacceptable.”

He said county attorneys will “look at all available options to defend our decision to deny these permits.”

Constantine, co-chairman of an intergovernmental group involved in salmon recovery efforts, said the county, the state and the federal government “have spent millions on rescuing threatened salmon runs. If we are serious about restoring our salmon and protecting our orcas, then the county’s decision to deny these shoreline permits must stand.”

According to the county, the barging facility Glacier Northwest wants to

replace hasn’t been used since 1978 and is in disrepair. The extent of the

replacement project was a key in the county’s rejection of Glacier’s request for permits, officials said.

Staff writer Erica Hall contributed to this report.

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