Miles Protests Critical Areas Review Requirement

In the last few weeks, both Skagit County Planning and Development Services (PDS) and Miles Sand and Gravel have taken significant actions on Miles’ Grip Road gravel mine special use permit application. 

In our last update in May, we noted that in response to comments submitted by the public and representatives of local Indian tribes and state agencies, PDS had withdrawn the mitigated determination of non-significance (MDNS) it issued for the proposed mine on April 25, 2021.   Subsequently, on June 17, PDS sent a letter to Miles requiring an assessment of critical areas associated with its internal mine haul road.  The letter cited PDS’ own critical areas site visit, which had determined “the likelihood of the presence of steep slopes, wetlands within 300 feet, and stream areas within 200 feet of the proposal.”  An attached map showed the locations of 18 wetlands, two streams, and one area of steep, unstable slopes associated with the mine haul road.

On June 24, Miles responded by submitting an appeal to the Hearing Examiner of PDS’ decision to require additional critical areas review.  The appeal argued that the Hearing Examiner should overturn the decision for the following reasons:

  1. That since the Hearing Examiner had issued a decision on an earlier appeal by Miles that declared the mine special use permit application complete and ordered PDS to move ahead with processing the application, PDS could not require Miles to submit substantial new information, and
  2. That Miles’ internal mine haul road is actually a “forest road” regulated by the state Department of Natural Resources under the Forest Practices Act and therefore exempt from county critical areas review. 

In response to Miles’ June 24 appeal, the Hearing Examiner issued a memorandum on July 6 stating that it appeared the issue could be resolved based on review of legal briefs submitted by the two parties, and set deadlines for submittals. 

On July 28, PDS submitted its response to the appeal, in which it argued the following:

  1. That since Miles had already provided substantial new information to PDS (including a full traffic impact analysis) subsequent to the Hearing Examiner’s earlier decision declaring the application complete, Miles had essentially waived its right to proceed directly to a hearing on the merits of the application without additional information being required by PDS, and
  2. That Miles use of its internal road system for hauling product from the mine constituted a clear change in use from a “forest road”, and
  3. That the change of use to a mine haul road was by definition part of the proposed development and thus subject to critical area review requirements under county code. 

In its August 11 reply, Miles essentially repeated the arguments from its appeal.

So, as concerned community members, where does all this legal back and forth leave us?  As has so often been the case, that remains somewhat unclear at this point.  While we appreciate that PDS has belatedly gotten around to addressing at least some of the issues we have been demanding that they address for the last 5 ½ years, it is late in coming.  We keep asking why PDS didn’t just do its job in the first place and why we have had to essentially do it for them.  In the case of this appeal, however, we have no legal “standing”.  The Hearing Examiner denied our request to intervene in Miles’ previous appeal and at that time he basically said that the public can have its say when the project goes to hearing. 

The Hearing Examiner’s decision on this latest appeal is expected at the end of this month.  If the Hearing Examiner upholds Miles’ appeal, there are still several steps in the permit process.  A key one is that since the county has withdrawn both of its previous State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) threshold determinations, a new determination is still required.  The county could still require much more stringent mitigation requirements for both traffic safety and critical areas, or even require Miles to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS).  If the new threshold determination still doesn’t adequately address the impacts of the proposed mine, it can be appealed by community members.  And, of course, Miles can also appeal if they don’t like it.

Whatever happens with the current appeal and the SEPA threshold determination, the permit application will eventually go to a hearing on its merits.  If either CSVN or Miles appeals the new SEPA determination, the Hearing Examiner will hear the appeal at the same hearing as the permit application.  Under that scenario, CSVN will have the opportunity to present testimony and evidence from qualified expert witnesses during the SEPA appeal phase of the hearing if that happens; however, this can be quite costly. 

During the permit application phase of the hearing, anyone who wishes will have the right to comment for up to three minutes.  It will be extremely important for as many concerned local residents as possible to attend that hearing.  This may well be the crux of the process as far as getting the Hearing Examiner to listen to our concerns, but if he ignores public concerns and approves the permit without adequate environmental review and mitigation, we will have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Board of County Commissioners.  If the Commissioners decide against us (and provided we can marshal the large amount of money needed to do so), we can then appeal to a higher body.

We will keep you posted as this unfolds.

The full appeal documents can be found at this county website:

All of the mine permit application documents can be found here:

Some Good News and Some More of the Same Old Story

Some good news for a change! After 50+ comment letters were submitted by community members, Skagit County Planning and Development Services (PDS) is having yet another look at the mine development application!

A legal notice was published in the newspaper Thursday withdrawing the Mitigated Determination of NonSignificance (MDNS) on the Grip Road Gravel Mine. It states:  “Notice is hereby given that on May 13, 2021, Skagit County PDS is withdrawing the SEPA MDNS issued on April 25, 2021. If a new threshold determination is issued, a new notice and comment period will be provided”. There is no explanation as to why, or what PDS plans to do next; in fact, no other new information is provided in the Notice. 

We have talked with the assistant director at PDS. He told us they plan to do additional Critical Areas review and then issue a new Threshold Determination under the State Environmental Policy Act. He pretty much told us that another MDNS would be issued in the future – meaning the application is still active and they are not planning to require a full EIS.  We asked if they plan to look into traffic issues further — he said ‘no’.  We expressed our surprise and concern regarding this, but could get no further explanation.  Nor could he provide any kind of timeline, but he expected it would be at least a month before a new threshold determination would be issued.

One might reasonably conclude from this Notice that the permit/application has been withdrawn, but this is not the case – unfortunately this is far from over, and we really don’t know what additional environmental review is forthcoming.  And, despite the overwhelming concern expressed by the public, it seems we have more work to do to get the County to take public safety and traffic issues seriously.

So, the good news is that the inadequate MDNS was withdrawn and there will be more opportunity for public input.  The County seems to be paying a little more attention now.   This is significant progress. And, we do not need to go through an expensive appeal process at this time.  Chalk one up for public involvement – your comments clearly made a difference! 

Thank you to everyone who has supported this effort.  Please stay tuned in!

ACTION ALERT: Please Submit Comments on Proposed Gravel Mine

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:

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:             

& 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:

2017 crash in Georgia, where the dump truck crossed the center line and sideswiped the passenger car, killing the driver (see here for details). 

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. 

MDNS and Next Steps

Some of you have contacted us regarding how to submit comments to the County on the new MDNS, and what to say.  First of all, thank you for asking.  We need as many people as possible to submit comments, and time is pretty short (due by April 30th). 

However, it will take us a few days to consult with our advisors to write up some talking points that will have the maximum impact.  We plan to have something posted by this Thursday.

Of course you don’t need to wait for our suggestions, but please know that this comment period is about the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process.  So the focus of comments should be on what is missing from the existing analysis of impacts and proposed mitigation. (There will be a Special Use Permit Hearing and separate comment period sometime in the coming months). 

While it is always tempting to simply state that a full Environmental Impact Statement is needed, this demand by itself does not specify what the County and Applicant still needs to do to fully evaluate and mitigate for the impacts of the proposal. 

To be most meaningful, the comments should state what has not adequately been evaluated.  There are a lot of gaps in the existing assessments, and the proposed mitigation falls woefully short, but it is a lot to sort through.  We will attempt to consolidate the issues and post it later this week.

Stay tuned!

CSVN Reiterates Community Concerns to Skagit County Staff

On June 10, volunteers of the Central Samish Valley Neighbors made a presentation to Skagit County staff from Planning & Development Services and Public Works via a Zoom meeting. The presentation highlighted community concerns with the transparency of the mine application review process as well as unacknowledged and unmitigated community impacts, including unlimited hours of operation, noise pollution, community safety and traffic impacts, among others.

The concerns were conveyed in part through two presentations covered during the meeting (click to open): 1. Community Impact and Review Process Concerns and 2. Gravel Haul Route Safety and Traffic Issues.

In October 2019, the Hearing Examiner ordered the County Planning & Development Services staff to process CNW’s application for a Mining Special use permit in October 2019.  CSVN has kept in touch with PDS staff and we were told in May 2020 that a decision will be made soon as to whether to issue a new SEPA Threshold Determination on the application or to proceed directly to a public hearing with the application as it now stands. No announcement has been made on this yet.

In the meantime, we continue to pressure the County to require a full Traffic Impact Analysis as required by County Code and to highlight the other serious environmental concerns and major flaws with the way the application has been processed by the County.

CNW Strikes Back (Appeals Denial of Application)

The good news regarding the County’s denial of CNW/Miles Sand and Gravel Mining Special Use Permit was short lived. On April 17 we learned that CNW has appealed the County’s decision to deny their application. We are still learning what this means, but we know this much:

The appeal is heard by the Hearing Examiner in an “open hearing” which means the public can (and should) attend and comment.  The County has up to 90 days to respond to the appeal and schedule the hearing.  However, there may as little as  7 days Notice of the Hearing, so please stay tuned and be prepared to attend if possible.

We feel the County is completely justified in denying the application; from the beginning 2 years ago, the application (and the County’s review process) has been fraught with errors, factual discrepancies and misinformation.  We have argued for some time that if CNW wants to develop this gravel mine, they need to resubmit a new complete proposal that is internally consistent, discloses all environmental impacts, and complies fully with County regulations.

We expected this appeal, and see it as an ongoing attempt by Miles Sand and Gravel to wear us down.  It is very important for the community to stay involved.  Please stay tuned for more information as soon as we can provide it.

Thank you,
Central Samish Valley Neighbors

County Planning Department Sends Mixed Messages and Ignores County Code

Have you been wondering what is going on with the proposed gravel mine near Grip and Prairie Roads?  We want you to know that we are definitely still working on it.  The most recent developments have been confusing and we are still trying to clarify with the County exactly what is happening.  Here is what we know:

  • On Oct 24, 2017 the County sent a letter to Concrete Nor’West (CNW) stating that CNW must provide the additional information that the County requested by November 3, 2017, or their application would be denied.  This was based on County Code that the applicant has 120 days from the time of the original request for information to comply (original request was in July).  The series of letters to and from the County and CNW can be reviewed on the County website.
  • On October 30, 2017 the County’s attorney forwarded to us an email exchange between CNW and the County.  In these messages, phone calls between CNW and the Planning Director are referenced.  It appears that the County has granted a 120 day extension to CNW, and agreed to meet with them to ‘clarify’ what additional information CNW needs to provide, but the correspondence is minimal and inconclusive.
  • On Nov. 1, 2017, community members John Day and Martha Bray sent a letter to the County objecting to the way in which this extension was apparently granted, and expressing concerns about the lack of transparency demonstrated in a closed door meeting with CNW (see letter here).
  • We have heard nothing since, and there is nothing in writing from the County confirming or denying that an extension has been granted.  We continue to work on getting some clarification from the County and we will let you know when we learn more.
  • It is important to note that even in the unlikely event that the extension has not been granted, and the County denies the permit, CNW can just resubmit the same materials and start the application process over again.  So, none of us are under any illusion that the proposal is going away.
  • We fully expect that there will be a public hearing on this proposal, but we do not know when – it could be soon or many months away.  We encourage you to please stay involved.  It will take everyone’s participation to protect the community from the negative impacts of this proposed mine.
  • We continue to stay focused on asking the County to adequately address: 1) public safety, especially in terms of the number of gravel trucks permitted on the roads and the substandard road conditions in our neighborhood; 2) reasonable limits on hours of operation; 3) preventing future expansion and/or on-site processing; 4) the environmental protections required by law.

We very much appreciate your continued support.


Community Picnic a Success!

IMG_3743Around 50 adults and many children braved the rain to attend the community picnic at Linda and Bob Walsh’s on September 9th, sponsored by Central Samish Valley Neighbors.  Many community members met each other for the first time.  We shared a great potluck meal, enjoyed live music by Wishbone Alley; and we appreciated the much needed rain despite the mud and drippy tents,.  An update regarding the status of the proposed gravel mine was shared (see below), and happily a $1,000 was raised through generous donations and silent auction items. Once again the generosity and commitment of this amazing community was demonstrated.  A heartfelt thanks to everyone who came and participated!

We are very lucky to have an anonymous donor covering the legal expenses to challenge this mine permit.  However, we need additional funds to pay for experts that can review and challenge Concrete Nor’West’s inadequate studies, particularly the traffic safety analysis.  We don’t know yet how much money this will take,but we estimate that we still need at least another $1,500.  So, if you haven’t had a chance to donate yet, your contribution would be most appreciated:  

This can be done through the Go Fund Me website:  

— or checks can be made out to:  Linda Walsh / CSVN;  and mailed to Linda Walsh  21710 Prairie Road, Sedro Woolley, WA  98284.  

We are all volunteers.  All donated funds are for direct expenses associated with challenging this mine permit.

We have no doubt that the gravel mine would have been approved and operational by now if the community had not stepped up and demanded that the County follow its own rules and regulations.  But it’s not over — we need everyone to stay involved.  We estimate that at least 1,000 households will be directly affected by this gravel mine.  We are facing very serious road safety issues and environmental impacts.  While contributions have been very encouraging, we estimate than fewer than 50 households (5% of those affected) have donated so far.  Please spread the word – this matters to everyone!  

Briefly, the status of the gravel mine proposal is as follows:  In March the County responded to community concerns by sending a letter to Concrete Nor’West (CNW) citing the many inconsistencies and issues with their application, and requesting additional information, and stating that the application decision process will be revisited after CNW provides better documentation.  In May, CNW sent their response to the County — they did not acknowledge or address any of the concerns raised by the community.  Their letter ‘doubled down’ on their original proposal, including unlimited hours of operation, an “average” of 46 tandem gravel trucks per day for 25 years to travel down Grip and Prairie Roads, and many other unacceptable environmental impacts.  The “average” for Truck Trips means CNW could run full force (60- 110 truck trips an hour) in the busy summer months and at a reduced number in the winter months.

In July, the County sent another letter to CNW stating that their application would be considered incomplete until the requested information is submitted. Given the track record of the County and CNW, we have little confidence that the information forthcoming from CNW will be adequate, nor that the County will require necessary mitigation without our continued vigilance.  Our anonymous donor will continue to support our efforts as long as they see the Community is involved, so it is critical for all of us to stay engaged in this process.

So, we are in a holding pattern right now, but it could change at anytime, and we need to be ready.  Please stay in touch, spread the word and be ready to respond!! 

Thank you.

What will happen with our roads?

We are all familiar with the current traffic hazards on Grip Road, Prairie Road and Highway 99: blind corners, dangerous intersections, no turn lanes, small or nonexistent shoulders… What happens when dozens of dump-truck & trailer combos loaded to over 100,000 lbs start traveling up and down these roads from dawn till dusk?

At our meeting at the end of March, one of our concerned community members, Brian Bowser, provided a comprehensive overview of the very real and specific problems that would arise if the gravel mine is approved with only the halfhearted mitigation measures suggested by Concrete Nor’west.

You can view Brian’s presentation and notes by clicking on this link: Brian’s Traffic Presentation.

If you have any comments on this presentation or other issues related to the proposed, please write to us at: