Letter: Proposed mine not a good idea

Thank you for your informative May 30th article about local mining proposals by Kimberly Cauvel. We are lucky to have a good reporter here in Skagit who tracks these issues and makes the effort to accurately write about them.

We have been following the proposed gravel mine northwest of Sedro-Woolley near Grip Road since it was proposed over five years ago. The article reports that there are now fifteen recommended conditions on that permit, but at least ten of these conditions simply state that the applicant must comply with existing laws and regulations. The proposed mitigation falls far short of protecting public safety from increased truck traffic. This is despite hundreds of letters over the years from concerned residents. We have repeatedly asked the County, to no avail, to evaluate the maximum amount of daily truck traffic that would be generated by the mine, not the stated average of 46 trips per day. The demand for sand and gravel is seasonal, so ‘average’ in this usage is meaningless.

We know everyone needs gravel, but at what cost? The proposed Grip Road mine is simply out of scale with its location. This would be a 60 acre open pit mine located next to sensitive habitat on the Samish River in an area where no industrial scale mining has ever occurred. The material must be hauled, not on major arterials, but on narrow, steep, winding substandard rural roads.

After countless hours reviewing documents, raising money, asking questions, writing letters, we are still unsure where this permit is going. And the question is not really will the roads be safe, but how unsafe will they be with this additional truck traffic. Community members should not have to spend hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on their own experts to get public officials to listen and to apply common sense regulation.

Martha Bray
Sedro-Woolley

Published in the Skagit Valley Herald on June 9, 2021

Gratitude and Perseverance!

An enormous thank you to the 30+ families who have contributed over the past week. We’ve just passed $6K and are approaching our goal of $10K.

Traffic study shows gravel trucks will not fit on existing rural roads.

We have just learned that the County Planning Department plans to “reissue SEPA” this week”. As soon as this legal notice is issued, there will be a 14 day comment period. It will be very important for everyone who is concerned about this project to submit comments.

Please stay in touch. We will let you know more as soon as we can.

We also know from our public records requests that the county plans to issue a “Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance” or “MDNS” which means that they will not require an Environmental Impact Statement.

Community Support Needed to Protect Public Safety on Our Rural Roads

A recent traffic study shows that gravel trucks will not fit on rural roads in Central Samish Valley. “My main issue continues to be CNW’s pirating our roadways with an attitude that the public can dodge their trucks/trailers as they cross centerlines and intersections,” said community member Wallace Groda. The image above from 2019 accident in Indiana.

We still face the prospect of a massive increase in heavy, industrial truck traffic on our quiet rural roads. As proposed by Puyallup-based Miles Sand & Gravel, the permit for the Grip Road Gravel Mine north of Sedro-Woolley would allow up to 30 truck and trailer trips per hour each way on Grip Road and Prairie Road over the next 25 years, without any meaningful road safety improvements.  These narrow, winding roads are simply not designed to handle the size or the number of trucks required to safely haul this much gravel.

  • Are you worried about the safety of your family with dozens of gravel trucks running every day on Grip and Prairie Roads without meaningful road improvements? 
  • Do you think there should be limits on the hours of operation and the number of gravel trucks allowed on our narrow winding substandard roads?
  • Do you think the mine operators should share the cost of road improvements necessary to make our roads safe for the additional heavy traffic that is proposed? 
  • Are you concerned about traffic congestion and commuting delays that so many slow-moving gravel trucks will cause?

We are doing our best to fight this reckless proposal, but we need your help.  After five years of pushback from the community, it still looks like the permit will be approved without conditions that will protect public safety and the environment.  Once the excavation starts on the 60-acre open pit mine, there is no going back — dump trucks will flood our narrow and substandard roads for the foreseeable future.

Please consider a donation to support our efforts to protect our public safety and quality of life.  Even small donations will help! Several Central Samish Valley Neighbors have stepped up and expressed their willingness to match up to $2,000 in new donations dollar for dollar. The funds will be used to hire a a professional traffic engineer who will provide credible input for the permit requirements to protect community safety, and for subsequent legal action if needed.

Central Samish Valley Neighbors’ GoFundMe Page.

Skagit County’s Planning and Development Services (PDS) has outsourced traffic safety review to consultants who haven’t visited or travelled our roads.  One example of the shortcomings: Miles’ recent report finally admits that some of the corners on the haul route are so tight that the gravel trucks will stray two-to-three feet over the centerline into oncoming traffic, but states that it isn’t Miles’ problem to fix.  The County’s consultant and Skagit County Public Works Department inevitably “green light” all the findings of these so-called studies.

We keep asking PDS when they will go public with the permit process, and they assure us that we will be the ‘first to know’, but they still haven’t provided a timeline.  It could be next month, or six months or a year, but one thing is certain: the trucks are coming and we have to keep fighting to be heard.

Unfortunately, we must hire our own independent expert – this has become abundantly clear in watching how County officials respond.  If we do not provide supporting testimony from a professional traffic engineer, community concerns will be shrugged off.   A ‘third-party’ expert will provide credible input for the permit requirements to protect community safety, and for subsequent legal action if needed.  This will cost at least $7,000.  We have raised enough money from previous donations, and more recently among our core group, to retain the traffic engineer, and to pay for some ongoing legal defense.  However we do not have enough money to sustain this effort.  

We are all volunteers and members of this community. All funds go to expenses directly related to challenging the mining permit.  However, we are not a formal registered non-profit organization, therefore your donations are not tax deductible.  If there are any funds remaining when this effort is over, we intend to donate them to the Hickson Fire Hall and Hoogdal Community Club.  Thank you for your help.

Additionally, please know that traffic safety is not the only concern we have about this mine proposal. We have submitted detailed comments about environmental concerns including impacts to water quality in the Samish River, impacts to fish and wildlife habitat and many other issues.  For more on this, please see our comment letters at: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/gravelmine.htm

Questions? Email us:  gravelpitcsvn@gmail.com

Prefer to just mail a donation:  Checks can be made out to Linda Walsh / CSVN (mailing address: 21710 Prairie Rd, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284).

Traffic study shows gravel trucks will not fit on existing rural roads. This is image is from accident in Indiana.

Update: Gravel Mine Application Still Active, Action Expected Soon

A recent traffic study shows that gravel trucks will not fit on rural roads in Central Samish Valley. “My main issue continues to be CNW’s pirating our roadways with an attitude that the public can dodge their trucks/trailers as they cross centerlines and intersections,” said community member Wallace Groda. The image above from accident in Indiana.

It’s been quite a while since our last update on the proposed gravel mine along the Samish River near Grip Road.  The most important thing for you to know is that Miles Sand and Gravel/Concrete Nor’West’s (CNW) application for a Mining Special Use Permit is still active, and the County still plans to hold a public hearing before the County Hearing Examiner to consider approval of the permit.  We continue to monitor the permit status as best we can, so we can be prepared the public hearing that could be announced any time. 

We have said this before, but we ask you keep paying attention, as the notification for the hearing could come before the end of the year or in January 2021. If it happens in the next few months, the hearing will be “virtual” – meaning that the hearing will be conducted in a video conference format where the public has to participate via computer or by phone.  We don’t like this format, but it is, understandably, how the County is conducting all of its public meetings during COVID.  

Staff at Skagit Planning and Development Services (PDS) continue to give us the same frustratingly vague responses, which is some version of:  “We’re working on it, and we’ll let you know as soon as possible what is going on.”  They still can’t (or won’t) tell us if they plan to issue a revised “Threshold Determination”, under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), even though they have acknowledged the serious flaws with the original SEPA review, and a revised determination has been promised for more than three years on the County’s website.  Either way the project will go to a public hearing, but we argue that the original SEPA review was completely inadequate, and failed to disclose the serious impacts of this proposal.  Our recent letter to the County concerning the inadequacy of the SEPA review can be found at: https://www.skagitcounty.net/PlanningAndPermit/Documents/GravelMine/CSVN%20FINAL%20Ltr%2011-24-20.pdf

But the reason we think a decision may happen soon is that the County has received all of the additional information they requested from the applicant.  This additional information focuses on impacts to public safety related to gravel truck traffic.  CNW submitted a “Traffic Impact Analysis” (TIA) in September (prepared by their consultants DN Traffic Consultants).  We have been asking for a TIA for years.  Unfortunately, we find the document CNW submitted does not meet the requirements for a full TIA as required by County Code, and leaves us with more questions than answers. The community’s serious concerns about public safety from dozens of tandem gravel trucks running back and forth on Grip and Prairie Road every day for twenty-five years have still not been addressed.  Still no permanent road improvements have been proposed, even though the TIA acknowledges that gravel trucks will not be able to stay in their lanes in several dangerous locations.  

This is a direct quote from the TIA:  “The Consultant prepared an AutoTurn analysis of these turns on Prairie Road approximately 1200 lineal feet and 1800 lineal feet east of the Prairie Road/Old Highway 99 intersection. Based on this analysis, it was estimated the dump truck/pup combination is expected to encroach approximately two (2) to three (3) feet onto the shoulder or over the centerline.”    

Some additional concerns about the TIA are listed below this main message.

In conclusion, we know that it has been frustrating for everyone that we still don’t have clear answers from the County after more than four years that this application has been active.  But, we ask that you to please continue to pay attention to this issue.  When a public hearing and public comment period is finally announced, please be prepared to send written comments and attend the hearing.    

Thank you for continuing to stay involved! 

All public documents related to the mining proposal can be found on the County’s website at:  https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/gravelmine.htm

The above image is from a 2019 crash in Indiana, where both vehicles crossed the centerline and caused a head-on collision.

Some of the issues with the Traffic Impact Analysis submitted by CNW (quoted from a letter CSVN sent to the County on 11/24/2020):

  • It does not meet the requirements and format for a Level II TIA as set out in Skagit County Road Standards, 2000 (SCRS) (SCRS 4.01-4.02 and Appendix A).
  • It does not state whether the information included in the TIA supersedes previous inconsistent and/or contradictory information submitted by the consultant and the applicant regarding critical aspects of the project, including hours of operation and numbers of truck trips.  This adds to the overall lack of definition for the project rather than clarifying it.
  • It proposes that if the applicant needs to exceed a limit of 46 truck trips per day to meet demand (up to a limit of 29.4 trips each way per hour, or 294 trips per 10-hour operating period), they will first request permission from the County, and then Public Works will be responsible for determining temporary safety measures to mitigate for the increased risks.  This is problematic in several regards:
    • It does not state how often and for how long this “extended hours operation” could occur.
    • It seems to imply, without ever stating clearly, that hauling under this scenario would take place for only 10 hours per day, while mining would happen for unspecified “extended hours.”  Since the applicant has repeatedly asserted their right to operate up to 24 hours per day, seven days per week, we must assume that both accelerated mining and hauling could take place during those hours. The actual number of round trips per 24-hour period under this scenario would be 706, meaning there would be 1,412 one-way truck trips every 24 hours, and 60 one way truck trips every hour.  Mine traffic impacts must be evaluated on this basis.
    • Without specifying what measures would need to be implemented to ensure traffic safety under this “extended hours” scenario, the applicant defers its obligation in this regard to the County and potentially exposes the County to liability.
  • It contains false statements regarding existing road conditions and uses, as well as future uses, for instance:
    • As previously noted, the statement that there are no designated bicycle routes on the roads proposed for the haul route, when in fact a map of these routes is included in the non-motorized transportation component of the County Comprehensive Plan. 
    • The statement that the shoulders on Prairie Road vary from two feet to four feet wide.  In actuality, recently installed guardrails on the south side of the road practically eliminate the shoulder entirely for a considerable distance along the haul route.
    • The statement that there is no significant development planned that will impact traffic levels on the proposed haul route.  In fact, the County has already approved bringing Kalloch Road and North Fruitdale Road up to arterial standards to provide better access from the north to the Sedro Woolley Innovation for Tomorrow (SWIFT) Center.  The bulk of this traffic from the north will come via I-5, Bow Hill Road, Prairie Road, Grip Road, and Mosier Road. In addition, a major new residential development is planned for north of Sedro Woolley between SR9 and Fruitdale Road.  This will also generate a significant amount of traffic to the north via these same roads.
  • It omits key facts and conditions, such as:
    • The existence of several Burlington and Sedro-Woolley School District bus routes along the proposed haul route.  It makes no mention of these bus routes; does not analyze the threats presented by mine truck traffic to the safety of schoolchildren, parents, or district employees and equipment; and proposes no mitigation actions for these risks. 
    • A major roadway misalignment issue on the Grip Road Hill curves, which requires that a truck with pup trailer repeatedly encroach on both the centerline and the edge of the pavement (there is no fog line) while navigating this very narrow, steep section of the road. 
    • The existing, progressive failure of the pavement and roadbed on the outside of the uphill (south side) lane of traffic in the above location.  This presents both a safety hazard to the public and an ongoing maintenance liability for the county.
  • It documents some of the other existing, critical road deficiencies and traffic hazards but either omits corresponding mitigating actions or proposes inadequate mitigation actions.  For example:
    • It documents that a truck with pup trailer cannot navigate the two 90-degree curves on Prairie Road east of the Old Highway 99 intersection in either direction without encroaching significantly on both the fog line and centerline.  It acknowledges that this constitutes a traffic safety hazard, but does not propose any mitigation actions.  Instead, it states that the County is responsible for dealing with this issue.
    • It proposes a flashing yellow light warning system to mitigate for inadequate sight distance at the Prairie Road/Grip Road intersection, a measure the author of the TIA described as “temporary” in an earlier traffic memo.  This is the same place where, in an email obtained via public records request, former PDS Senior Planner John Cooper described coming upon the scene of an auto accident at this intersection and being told by the attending Sheriff’s Department officer (who himself was a former commercial truck driver) that a flashing yellow warning light would be insufficient to prevent accidents in that location (John Cooper email to Dan Cox, 1/30/2017).

In addition, in the TIA fails to disclose serious impacts with regard to use of the bridge over the Samish River on Old 99. In response to information about the bridge’s weight restrictions, the TIA proposes either to reduce load weights or to use an alternate route that involves continuing west up Bow Hill Road from Prairie Road to I-5, heading south to the Cook Road exit, and then north on Old 99.  However, these options either generate more truck trips than proposed (lighter loads equals more trucks trips) or follow a considerably longer haul route.  The impacts from this longer haul route have not been analyzed. There are many concerns related to dozens of gravel trucks making their way up the steep Bow Hill Rd and entering and exiting two busy freeway interchanges, and passing through additional busy intersections that are already hazardous.  And of course, either way, the cumulative mileage and emissions increase.  These additional impacts have simply not been evaluated. 

Finally, to our knowledge, the County’s hired traffic engineer/consultant, HDR, who has been reviewing the various traffic information submitted by the applicant, has never visited the site and actually observed the condition of the roads in question.  All of the third-party review has been conducted remotely using information and data provided by the applicant and County – it is simply unacceptable that the reviewers signing off on the traffic studies have not observed in-person the problems with road conditions and safety.

County Hires Consulting Firm to Review Mine Application, Local Residents Remain in the Dark

facepalmCentral Samish Valley Neighbors discovered through a public records request that Skagit County Planning & Development Services has hired a contractor (HDR, Inc.) to complete the review of the permit application for the proposed mine near Grip Road and Prairie Road.

For more than three years now the community has been asking Planning & Development Services to keep us informed of developments regarding this proposal, and staff has provided assurances that the community would be kept up-to-date.

It is surprising and disappointing that the only way to obtain substantive information about this process is through the bureaucratic and time-consuming process of public records requests. This lack of transparency undermines our confidence that the public’s best interest is a priority in this process.

Community members John Day and Martha Bray have submitted a letter to Planning and Development Services Director Hal Hart outlining the community’s concerns about the process and about the substance of the contract itself.

The contract calls for the permit review process will be completed by July 2020. However, we don’t know if/how the Covid-19 situation will affect the timeline. The public records request also revealed that the County is requiring the CNW to pay for the cost of the review, so at least County taxpayers aren’t picking up the tab.

This Week’s Hearing on Gravel Mine Appeal Cancelled

In an extraordinary chain of events this last week, the Skagit County Hearing Examiner sided with Miles Sand and Gravel/Concrete Nor’West (CNW) and upheld their appeal of the County’s denial of their application.  All of this happened without the appeal going to hearing, and the hearing is now cancelled.  We only learned of this after the fact, but have now obtained the documents that lead to this outcome.  The County filed a “Motion for Summary Judgement” asking the Hearing Examiner to dismiss the appeal, but the Hearing Examiner rejected their argument.  His ruling and order can be seen hereThe other documents are available via this link (until Nov 17)   

This is a very discouraging development.  It means not only is CNW’s very flawed application still active, but that it will likely go to a final hearing for consideration of the Mining Special Use Permit without a real traffic study or adequate environmental review.

We have been in touch with the County Planning Department asking for information about when we can expect a new staff report, and how soon it might go to hearing.  They responded that it is too soon to say.  We also let them know that we still expect them to issue a revised State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) threshold determination as they have promised publicly for years, but with the Order from the Hearing Examiner, everything has changed.

We will be in touch as soon as we understand what the next steps will be. If the permit does go to hearing soon, public comments and testimony will be absolutely critical.  So please stay tuned.

Update: CNW Continues Pursuing All or Nothing Approach

Miles Sand and Gravel /Concrete Nor’west (“CNW”) is still aggressively pursuing development of a 68-acre gravel mine on the Samish River near Grip and Prairie Roads despite the County’s denial of their application in March of 2018.  And, more than 3½ years after the original application was submitted, CNW has still not addressed the community’s serious concerns about public safety and impacts to the environment.

Nineteen months after the County denied the application as “incomplete”, a public hearing is scheduled. This hearing is not about the Mining Special Use Permit itself — which will happen at a later date. Instead, this hearing is strictly about whether the application is complete and if the County followed legal procedures.  Only limited technical issues will be considered by the Hearing Examiner from the parties of the appeal (CNW and the County).  No public testimony will be allowed. However, the public can attend and observe. The hearing will be held in Skagit County Commissioners’ Hearing Room, at 1800 Continental Place, Mount Vernon on Wednesday October 23, 2019 at 10:00 AM. 

This hearing has huge implications for how the proposal will move forward through the permitting process. Indeed, if the Hearing Examiner denies the appeal, CNW will have to start the application process over again.  So, the core group of citizens from Central Samish Valley Neighbors (CSVN) felt it was time to engage a new attorney using the remaining funds contributed from community supporters.  And, on October 1, 2019, CSVN filed a “renewed motion to intervene” in the appeal.  Again, the Hearing Examiner denied CSVN intervener status, stating that the County is adequately representing the community’s interests. Needless to say, we disagree.  However, in the response to our motion, the County states their intention to issue a revised State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) threshold determination when the application is deemed complete.  This is really important, and hopefully it sets the stage for a more transparent and accountable permitting process moving forward.

Depending on how the Hearing Examiner rules at this upcoming hearing, the permitting process could pick up speed or it could slow way down.  If the application is deemed complete, then it could go to a public hearing soon, perhaps by the end of the year.  If the denial of the permit is upheld, CNW will have to reapply and it will go much slower.  If/when a revised SEPA determination is issued, the public will probably have only 14 days to comment, so it is very important to stay tuned in.

Right now, no public comments are needed or allowed, but by attending and observing the appeal hearing on Oct 23rd, we are sending a clear message that we are not going to let this proposal get rubber stamped without our concerns being addressed.  That said, the most important time to get involved is when the application is deemed complete and a Special Use Permit Hearing is scheduled.  So, if you have limited time, please save it for that later hearing date (as yet to be determined); it will be crucial at that time for as many people as possible to submit comments and to show up at the Special Use Permit hearing. 

Lastly, legal defense is critical, but comes at a price.  We have found a really good attorney who is charging us at his reduced “public benefit” rate, and we have enough funds in the bank for this phase.  But continuing the fight will require financial help from the community.  The outcome of this fight will literally determine the Central Samish Valley’s future livability.  Please remember this when we ask you to consider donating in the future.  And thank you for your past and continued attention and support.

—————————————————————————————————————

Background info previously reported (as of August 12, 2019):    

Little has changed in CNW’s proposal during this time despite hundreds of comments received from the community and the County’s repeated request for additional information.  CNW is as determined as ever to push their flawed proposal through without addressing our serious concerns about public safety and environmental impact, and they are ramping up the pressure on the County.

Among the many issues that have not been addressed, CNW still insists that they have the right to unlimited hours of operation, and they refuse to state the maximum number of gravel trucks that could use the substandard county roads to and from the site on any given day.  The information they have submitted continues to be vague and contradictory, but when it is convenient, they still like to refer to their calculated “average of 46 trucks per day” (for 25 years).  While this figure is frightening enough, we know that with the seasonal nature of gravel extraction, an “average” figure is meaningless, and peak season numbers would be much higher.  Furthermore, CNW’s traffic consultant states that Grip and Prairie Roads can handle as many as 720 trucks over a 12-hour day (60 trucks an hour, or one every minute) without causing problems!

In March 2018, eighteen months ago, the County formally denied CNW’s application, not on substantive issues, but as “incomplete” and for “failure to timely submit additional requested information”.  This denial was long overdue as CNW had already been granted several time extensions that should not have been allowed under County code. However, in April 2018 CNW formally appealed the denial of the application. This appeal established a process overseen by Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford.  A number of community members then filed a request to the Hearing Examiner to be recognized as interveners in the appeal, in support of the County’s denial of the application.  We were not granted intervener status because in May, 2018 the parties (CNW and the County) announced that they were having discussions aimed at a settlement of the appeal.  These settlement discussions apparently involved giving CNW even more time to provide the requested information.  Had the discussions been “successful”, this would have allowed the County to withdraw the denial and declare the application complete so that the application could proceed, as the Hearing Examiner has said, to a hearing on the “merits” of the application instead of about the “completeness” of the application.

The Hearing Examiner seems to encourage and sanction the settlement process, and he has extended the deadline for the parties to reach settlement several times in the past year.  As long as the appeal is in settlement discussions, there is no way for the public to participate. Instead, discussions are conducted behind closed doors as part of a quasi-judicial process. In addition, the fact that it is under appeal has caused County staff to clam up and be even less responsive to requests from the public for clarification or information.  Most of the information revealed to community members during this time has been obtained through public records requests.  The records of internal county communications provided in response to those requests have frequently been heavily redacted based on claims of attorney-client privilege.

Last February 2019, County attorney Julie Nicoll issued a letter to CNW stating that CNW had once again failed to respond to specific requests for information and “despite our best efforts to settle this matter, it appears we must proceed to hearing of the appeal”.  This triggered several more rounds of complaint to the Hearing Examiner from CNW’s attorney Bill Lynn about how unfairly CNW had been treated by the County.  This, in turn, resulted in the Hearing Examiner ordering the County to try harder to resolve its issues with CNW.  Finally, an in-person meeting between the parties and the Hearing Examiner was held on Aug. 7, 2019.  It was not publicized, and community members were not allowed to participate in this “PreHearing Conference”, but we were allowed to attend and listen.  Twelve members of the public attended.

We sat and listened in dismay as CNW’s representatives made many statements that mischaracterized the nature of the project and the County’s response to CNW’s application.  At one point CNW’s attorney actually said that the proposal was “simply a borrow pit…. not even in a particularly sensitive area”.  (The proposal is in fact for a ninety-foot deep/sixty-eight acre open-pit mine next to the Samish River.)   A reoccurring theme of CNW’s complaints have to do with not having enough access to County staff, and not being able to just “work things out in the field the way they usually do” (this informal insider process has previously produced results such as County Public Works staff agreeing that a flashing yellow light at the intersection of Grip and Prairie Roads would be perfectly fine mitigation to handle the dozens of tandem gravel trucks entering a blind intersection, even though CNW’s own traffic consultant stated this would only be an “interim measure”).  Mr. Lynn also threw in some thinly veiled threats, stating that CNW would “reluctantly go to [appeal] hearing”, but then would have to “cross examine County staff about when they received certain information” and perhaps “conduct discovery” if the Hearing Examiner rules allowed it.   

The County attorney did push back against CNW’s claims, but what ensued was a “he said – she said” volley between the parties, which the Hearing Examiner put a stop to.  The Hearing Examiner said he didn’t want the parties to have this argument in front of him, and he told them once again to try to resolve it.  He ordered them to meet in-person on August 14th and he went on to schedule the date of the hearing of the appeal for October 23, 2019 at 10:00 AM, in case the parties did not reach settlement.  (Note: At the August 14 meeting, the parties were once again unable to reach a settlement.)

County & CNW Ordered to Continue Talks as October Hearing Deadline Approaches

Update to the Community on Proposed Grip & Prairie Road Gravel Mine

Miles Sand and Gravel / Concrete Nor’west (“CNW”) first proposed the 68-acre gravel mine near Prairie and Grip Roads in March of 2016 by applying for a Mining Special Use Permit.  Three and a half years later, County permitting authorities and CNW representatives are still arguing over the adequacy of the original application.  Little has changed in CNW’s proposal during this time despite hundreds of comments received from the community and the County’s repeated request for additional information.  CNW is as determined as ever to push their flawed proposal through without addressing our serious concerns about public safety and environmental impact, and they are ramping up the pressure on the County.

Among the many issues that have not been addressed, CNW still insists that they have the right to unlimited hours of operation, and they refuse to state the maximum number of gravel trucks that could use the substandard county roads to and from the site on any given day.  The information they have submitted continues to be vague and contradictory, but when it is convenient, they still like to refer to their calculated “average of 46 trucks per day” (for 25 years).  While this figure is frightening enough, we know that with the seasonal nature of gravel extraction, an “average” figure is meaningless, and peak season numbers would be much higher.  Furthermore, CNW’s traffic consultant states that Grip and Prairie Roads can handle as many as 720 trucks over a 12-hour day (60 trucks an hour, or one every minute) without causing problems!

In March 2018, eighteen months ago, the County formally denied CNW’s application, not on substantive issues, but as “incomplete” and for “failure to timely submit additional requested information”.  This denial was long overdue as CNW had already been granted several time extensions that should not have been allowed under County code. However, in April 2018 CNW formally appealed the denial of the application. This appeal established a process overseen by Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford.  A number of community members then filed a request to the Hearing Examiner to be recognized as interveners in the appeal, in support of the County’s denial of the application.  We were not granted intervener status because in May, 2018 the parties (CNW and the County) announced that they were having discussions aimed at a settlement of the appeal.  These settlement discussions apparently involved giving CNW even more time to provide the requested information.  Had the discussions been “successful”, this would have allowed the County to withdraw the denial and declare the application complete so that the application could proceed, as the Hearing Examiner has said, to a hearing on the “merits” of the application instead of about the “completeness” of the application.

The Hearing Examiner seems to encourage and sanction the settlement process, and he has extended the deadline for the parties to reach settlement several times in the past year.  As long as the appeal is in settlement discussions, there is no way for the public to participate. Instead, discussions are conducted behind closed doors as part of a quasi-judicial process. In addition, the fact that it is under appeal has caused County staff to clam up and be even less responsive to requests from the public for clarification or information.  Most of the information revealed to community members during this time has been obtained through public records requests.  The records of internal county communications provided in response to those requests have frequently been heavily redacted based on claims of attorney-client privilege.

Last February 2019, County attorney Julie Nicoll issued a letter to CNW stating that CNW had once again failed to respond to specific requests for information and “despite our best efforts to settle this matter, it appears we must proceed to hearing of the appeal”.  This triggered several more rounds of complaint to the Hearing Examiner from CNW’s attorney Bill Lynn about how unfairly CNW had been treated by the County.  This, in turn, resulted in the Hearing Examiner ordering the County to try harder to resolve its issues with CNW.  Finally, an in-person meeting between the parties and the Hearing Examiner was held on Aug. 7, 2019.  It was not publicized, and community members were not allowed to participate in this “PreHearing Conference”, but we were allowed to attend and listen.  Twelve members of the public attended.

We sat and listened in dismay as CNW’s representatives made many statements that mischaracterized the nature of the project and the County’s response to CNW’s application.  At one point CNW’s attorney actually said that the proposal was “simply a borrow pit…. not even in a particularly sensitive area”.  (The proposal is in fact for a ninety-foot deep/sixty-eight acre open-pit mine next to the Samish River.)   A reoccurring theme of CNW’s complaints have to do with not having enough access to County staff, and not being able to just “work things out in the field the way they usually do” (this informal insider process has previously produced results such as County Public Works staff agreeing that a flashing yellow light at the intersection of Grip and Prairie Roads would be perfectly fine mitigation to handle the dozens of tandem gravel trucks entering a blind intersection, even though CNW’s own traffic consultant stated this would only be an “interim measure”).  Mr. Lynn also threw in some thinly veiled threats, stating that CNW would “reluctantly go to [appeal] hearing”, but then would have to “cross examine County staff about when they received certain information” and perhaps “conduct discovery” if the Hearing Examiner rules allowed it.  

The County attorney did push back against CNW’s claims, but what ensued was a “he said – she said” volley between the parties, which the Hearing Examiner put a stop to.  The Hearing Examiner said he didn’t want the parties to have this argument in front of him, and he told them once again to try to resolve it.  This time he ordered them to meet in-person this month (scheduled for August 14th), and he went on to schedule the date of the hearing of the appeal for October 23, 2019 at 10:00 AM, in case the parties do not reach settlement.  Both parties appeared skeptical that they could reach settlement in one more meeting, but if we have learned anything through this convoluted process, it is to expect the unexpected and that all we can really count on is continued obfuscation by CNW.

A written order is expected soon from the Hearing Examiner regarding his findings from the August 7th PreHearing Conference.  This will hopefully clarify next steps, including several other dates that were discussed regarding procedural requirements for the appeal process.  In the meantime, another notable comment from the Hearing Examiner was that he really didn’t want to hold a hearing on this appeal, but if it does go to hearing he is inclined to re-visit the community members request to intervene.  If we are granted intervener status, we may be able to raise other substantial and procedural concerns about this application process – these are significant issues which to date, the County seems to have ignored despite our many comments in the record.  It is very very important for community members to show up for any hearing on this matter. 

So once again, friends and neighbors, we ask you to please:   

  1. Save the date — October 23, 2019 at 10:00 AM – It is likely that the hearing on the appeal of the denial will take place. If so, please plan on attending it, and bring everyone you know.  Even if we are not granted intervener status, or if you don’t want to speak or testify, it is very important to fill the room with community members to show the County how concerned we are about this proposal. 
  2. If the appeal hearing moves forward, we may be asking people to write comment letters in support of the County’s continued denial of the application.
  3. Stay tuned, we will pass on information and talking points as we learn more.

County and CNW Fail to Reach Settlement on Controversial Permit Application

deerAfter more than 9 months of negotiating with Miles Sand & Gravel /Concrete Nor’West (CNW), Skagit County appears to have finally decided to defend its denial of the company’s application for a Mining Special Use Permit due to failure to provide complete information. “Despite our best efforts to settle this matter, it appears we must proceed to hearing on the appeal of the denial of incomplete application,” reads the County’s Feb. 22, 2019 letter, signed by Deputy Civil Prosecuting Attorney Julie Nicholl. The letter details the specific areas where the applicant failed to provide full and consistent information (see full letter here).

While this latest news is a positive development for our community, it comes only after serious errors were made in the permitting process, numerous deadlines were ignored and the County failed to follow and enforce its own rules and regulations. In 2017, the County set several deadlines for CNW to submit additional information, then failed to enforce them. In 2018, this pattern continued, as the County entered into settlement discussions with CNW which were to be concluded within 90 days. However, it took 279 days for the County to officially conclude these talks, which ended up in the very same place as in April 2018. All the while the community was shut out of this process and unable to comment and participate. We hope this latest letter from the County attorney marks a turning point.

What’s next? In the near future, a public hearing date will be announced for CNW’s appeal of the application denial. This is expected in late March or April 2019. CNW will make its case before the Hearing Examiner and argue that it has fulfilled its obligations. The County will have to defend its rationale for denying the permit. It is not clear yet whether testimony from the public will be allowed. We expect that the hearing will be narrowly focused on the completeness of the information provided rather than the general merits of the permit application.

What can you do:

  1. Stay tuned, we will pass on information and talking points as we learn more.
  2. When the public hearing is announced, consider writing a comment letter in support of the County’s continued denial of application.
  3. Plan on attending the public hearing on the appeal.

Community Remains Shut out of the Process, as County Negotiates with Mine Developer

Half a year ago the County denied the permit application of Miles Sand & Gravel due to its failure to provide requested information. However, the company appealed this decision and has been in negotiations with the County ever since. Meanwhile, as this process takes places behind closed, the community has been left completely in the dark as to the nature and substance of these talks.

It seems unthinkable that the County would fail to keep written documentation of its negotiations. However, that appears to be the case. After numerous public records requests submitted by community members, the documents provided by the County offer no clue as to the County’s position in these negotiations. This seems to be a continuation of the County’s default policy of keeping the community uninformed and unable to participate in the process through public comment. If we do not know what is being discussed, we cannot be part of the discussion.

Although the County and the developer may prefer this situation to a more open and transparent process, this is not the way a government of the people should function.


For a more detailed overview of the situation and our community’s ongoing concerns, please click here to read a recent letter by Martha Bray and John Day to the County’s Planning and Development Services.