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Judge delays gravel mine's dock project

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

The expansion of the Glacier Northwest gravel mine on Maury Island is on hold since a King County Superior Court judge issued a stay on an earlier decision allowing the mining company to begin building a new dock in what has been classified a sensitive shoreline area.

Judge Sharon Armstrong’s ruling last month followed a motion for summary judgment filed by Preserve Our Islands, People for Puget Sound and the Washington Environmental Council. Her decision put on hold a Nov. 3 ruling by the King County Shorelines Hearing Board that gave Glacier the go-ahead to seek shoreline permits and begin construction of the dock, a project that critics have claimed could have a negative impact for the Federal Way area.

The new dock, which would replace a dilapidated older dock, is considered an integral part of Glacier’s expansion plans because it would allow the company to load the mined gravel directly into barges rather than trucking it across the island and onto a ferry to get it to the mainland.

Mine opponents lauded Armstrong’s decision, saying it represents a victory for the island’s residents and environmental groups who have voiced concern with Glacier’s expansion plans.

Glacier Northwest vice president Ron Summers said his company already has filed a motion in the state Court of Appeals.

“We can’t construct the dock until all the legal issues are worked out,” he said. “It’s just part of the process.”

Glacier Northwest, a subsidiary of Japanese cement giant Taiheiyo, has owned the Maury Island property under the names of a series of predecessors since 1936. Since 1971, the company has maintained a permit to mine 10,000 tons of gravel a year from 235-acre site, which is located on the east face of Maury Island.

In 1997, Glacier submitted permit applications to King County to expand its operation to 7.3 million tons of gravel a year. After a contract for gravel the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s third runway project was awarded to someone else, Summers said Glacier expected to mine closer to 2 or 3 million tons a year, which he said equates to two or three barges a day.

If the permits are approved, Glacier could mine 64 acres at a time, with screening and reclamation as part of the process. The company would install a moveable conveyor belt to transport the gravel to the dock for loading onto barges that could be up to 10,000 tons each. The permits would allow Glacier to actively mine from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

Armstrong’s decision was based partially on the petitioners’ likelihood of prevailing in court. She said the Shorelines Hearing Board issued flawed findings on whether the mine was “water dependent” and whether a new dock could be classified a “non-conforming use.”

She noted that because the board’s conditions authorize the county to develop longer hours of operation, the use of the dock would rise over prior levels, contrary to the provisions of a non-conforming use, and added “the replacement of a dilapidated, unusable structure with a concrete and steel structure necessarily prolongs the normal life of the structure and makes its use more nonconforming.”

Armstrong also found the petitioners would suffer irreparable injury by the dock’s construction.

“It is undisputed that the barge-loading activity, even within restricted hours of operation, will cause intermittent noise levels that exceed those permitted by King County noise ordinance,” Armstrong said, adding construction noise would cause irreparable harm to nearby residents and recreation users.

People on the Federal Way side of the Sound could be affected by noise and sights of the project, critics claim.

“Construction operations would have a negative impact on area recreation uses such as diving, boating, fishing, beach walking, wildlife and bird watching, and on aesthetic values,” she said.

Summers has said the mining operation won’t have the impacts predicted by island residents and environmental groups. He pointed out the bluffs on the eastern slopes of Maury Island would remain in place, screening this side of the Sound from most of the visual impacts and absorbing most of the noise.

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