Puyallup-based Miles Sand and Gravel is proposing a new gravel mine along the Samish River, accessed off of Grip Road in rural Skagit County. As many of you know, this project has been in the works for over five-years, but it’s basically the same. It would be a 60-acre open-pit mine eventually ninety-feet deep. This mine would cause significant impacts to the natural environment including to water quality and fish and wildlife habitat, as well as to traffic, public safety and quality of life.
The County says the project will not have a significant impact. On April 15, 2021, they issued a “Mitigated Determination of NonSignificance” (MDNS) under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Public comments are accepted until April 30th.
They are proposing to haul raw material from the mine to another site for processing, stating that an “average” of 46 truck trips a day — five days a week — will travel down Grip Road and west on Prairie Road, for 25 years. But behind the ‘average’ number, the traffic studies state that they may run as many as 30 truck & trailer combos or 70 single dump truck trips per hour.
The County needs to require a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). However, it is not enough to just ask for an EIS. To be most effective, comments need to be specific about what has not been adequately studied or mitigated.
We have posted example letters (Example 1 – traffic safety emphasis, Example 2 – environmental and quality of life emphasis, Example 3 – public safety emphasis), with more to come. On the following pages we describe what is missing from the MDNS in more detail. You can pick the issues that matter the most to you and express your concerns in your own words. Many details are buried in the application materials and are not mentioned in the MDNS project description. All of the project documents, including the Notice of Withdrawn and Re-Issued MDNS, can be viewed at: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/gravelmine.htm
Comments can be mailed or hand delivered to Planning and Development Services, 1800 Continental Place, Mount Vernon, WA 98273; but must be received by April 30th.
Email messages are not considered official comments!
To submit comments electronically go to: www.skagitcounty.net/pdscomments
& use the form on that page for submitting comments. Reference: File #’s PL16-0097 & PL16-0098
Grip Road Gravel Mine Environmental Concerns Not Addressed in the MDNS
The environmental review did not consider the full footprint of the project. The applicant owns more than 700 contiguous acres, however only the 60-acre mine site was included in the environmental review, even though industrial hauling will occur on the two-mile long private road that transects their larger ownership. The proposal will require more than 11,000 truck trips per year on this haul road. This private road has previously been used only for forestry. It is adjacent to wetlands and crosses Swede Creek, a fish bearing stream. These sensitive areas were not evaluated and no mitigation was proposed.
The County is not following its own Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO). Currently only a 200-foot buffer is recommended in the Fish and Wildlife Assessment, even though the CAO calls for 300-feet adjacent to high intensity land uses. Industrial scale mining is definitely a high intensity land use.
The Fish and Wildlife Assessment is out-of-date and incomplete. The limited Fish and Wildlife Assessment provided by the applicant is more than five-years-old, and the river and associated wetlands have changed. Designated habitat for the Oregon Spotted Frog has been identified in the Samish River adjacent to the mine site; this animal is listed as “Endangered” in Washington State and “Threatened” federally. In addition critical habitat for Bull Trout is located just downstream, Bull Trout is a “Candidate” species for listing in WA State, and is listed as “Threatened” federally. The MDNS does not mention these “ESA” species nor any protective measures necessary. Furthermore, state and federal agencies responsible for protecting endangered species need to be consulted.
Wetlands were not delineated, and there is no requirement for surveying and permanently marking them. A full wetland delineation was never done. Sensitive areas and buffers within the entire project area (not just the mine site itself) need to be identified so that operators and regulators know where they are.
Wildlife corridors are not identified and protected. Cougar, bear and bobcat are known to use the site, and it is the last large tract of undeveloped land between Butler Hill to the south, the Samish River and Anderson Mountain to the north. These animals require large territories and are sensitive to disturbance.
A drainage plan was not required to protect water quality from runoff on the private haul road. Without a drainage plan that identifies treatment measures for runoff from the haul road, the high volume of truck traffic is likely to cause excess sedimentation and potentially contamination from petroleum products to pollute surface water flowing into Swede Creek, a fish bearing stream.
Impacts to groundwater are not adequately evaluated and protections measures are not required. They intend to excavate the mine to within 10 feet of groundwater. They claim that all runoff from the disturbed site will drain into the mine, and infiltration will protect the groundwater. But it is unclear how that ten-foot limit is determined, nor how they will avoid penetrating the water table. No mention of seasonal fluctuation of the groundwater is discussed. Furthermore, with the pervious nature of sand and gravel, it is unclear if ten feet is sufficient to filter out contaminants such as petroleum product spills. The groundwater at the site is essentially at the level of the Samish River and flowing directly into it, with potential to contaminate the river.
The Noise and Vibration Study did not use realistic scenarios to model noise impacts. The assumptions regarding the number and size of equipment that will be operated on the site are vague and misleading. It modeled noise levels generated from “typical” and “average” mine production, not maximum noise levels. The study did not address the significant noise fully loaded trucks will generate using compression brakes descending Grip Road Hill and the Swede Creek gorge on the private haul road. Regardless of legal noise limits, all of this will be a major change to the soundscape for residents of the area that should be taken into account in a full EIS.
Emissions were not evaluated and no mitigation plan was required. Air pollution from the mining equipment and hauling has not been evaluated, even though hauling the material involves a minimum of 240,000 cumulative miles per year driven by diesel gravel trucks.
Cumulative impacts were ignored. This is a major industrial scale proposal that would create many cumulative impacts, both on-site and off-site. No off-site impacts were evaluated. Twenty-five years of mine operation is not a “temporary” activity. It will permanently change the character of the landscape and the surrounding neighborhoods, degrading wildlife habitat and fish bearing streams. To haul the amount of material proposed to the closest site for processing, requires driving diesel trucks more than 5,500,000 cumulative miles over the 25 year period. A full EIS needs to evaluate all cumulative impacts.
Grip Road Mine Traffic, Road and Public Safety Issues Not addressed in the MDNS:
County government and the concerned public cannot evaluate the traffic safety impacts of the project and the adequacy of the MDNS without the following information:
- The maximum number of truck trips per hour, how often the number of trips may exceed the average trips per hour, and how long the number of trips may exceed that average. The average of 46 trips per day or 4.6 trips per hour given in the MDNS is meaningless due to the seasonal nature of product demand. The applicant’s October 8, 2020 Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) proposes a maximum of 60 trips per hour (30 trucks in each direction). The SEPA determination must evaluate the traffic safety impacts of the project based on this maximum and set hard limits on this number, frequency, and duration
- A clear definition and map(s) of all haul routes, and the limitation of mine traffic strictly to the defined routes.
- Safety analysis of all haul route intersections and road segments to determine whether or not trucks traveling to and from the mine will stay within their lane of traffic, and the mitigation measures to be required for every location where they will not. The TIA provides analysis showing that truck and trailer combinations cannot traverse the two sharp curves on Prairie Road east of Old Highway 99 without encroaching on the opposing lane of traffic. The MDNS requires the applicant to take specific actions to mitigate this issue at this location. The TIA acknowledges that the same issue of lane encroachment exists at several other locations on the haul route, but neither it nor the MDNS lists those locations, provides any analysis of the problems there, or sets out the mitigation measures required to correct them. These locations include, among others, the S-curves on the Grip Road hill and practically all of the intersections on the haul route. This is unacceptable.
- Projections for the increase in non-mine traffic on the haul routes over time and evaluation of the safety and road capacity impacts of mine traffic with increased non-mine traffic. The TIA uses 2020 traffic levels to evaluate mine traffic impacts and does not factor in growth.
- Field studies to determine the speeds at which vehicles are currently traveling on the haul route and evaluation of how mine traffic will impact existing traffic given those speeds.
- More thorough evaluation of the accident records for all road segments and intersections on the haul route, including the contributing causes for the accidents. What are the implications for mine traffic safety?
- Determinations as to the actual safe speeds for any given road segment or intersection on the haul route, along with recommendations for changes to legal speed limits where they are needed for safety.
- More detailed evaluation of sight distances at all intersections, including “Vision Clearance Triangle” drawings as shown in Skagit County Road Standards, 2000, Appendix C – 7.
- A full evaluation of what the warning beacon systems proposed for the Grip Road/Prairie Road and Grip Road/Mine Entrance intersections are intended to accomplish and how they will do so. Drivers are clearly ignoring the existing speed warning signs at Grip and Prairie. How can they be expected to slow down adequately for the warning beacons?
- “Third party” sales at the mine would mean trucks traveling to and from the site via every route possible. Disallow third party sales from the mine.
- Adding heavy mine traffic to our existing, substandard roads will cause increased damage to public infrastructure and higher maintenance costs. These impacts must be evaluated and the applicant required to pay their proportional share of the costs. An important example is the slumping shoulder and roadway on the south side of the Grip Road hill S-curves, which have required frequent repairs over the last few years just with existing traffic levels.
- Pedestrian and bicycle safety must be evaluated along the entire haul route. This is a particular concern in areas where there are no shoulders on Grip and Prairie, and where guardrails were recently installed on Prairie Road. Necessary safety improvements must be required.
What happens next:
After this SEPA comment period we expect the County to issue a staff report that recommends conditions for approving the Mining Special Use Permit. At that time they will also announce a date for a Public Hearing before Skagit County’s Hearing Examiner to consider the Special Use Permit, together with another public comment period. This will likely take place in late May or June of this year. We expect the hearing to be conducted by video conference due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Hearing Examiner will consider public testimony and submitted comments, and then issue a decision whether to approve the permit and what conditions to place on it.
Depending on whether we feel our concerns have been adequately addressed, there are points along the way when community members who have submitted comments can appeal the County’s SEPA Determination (the MDNS), and later there is an opportunity to appeal the Hearing Examiner’s decision. An appeal of the County’s MDNS must be submitted by May 14, 2021.