UPDATES

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in response to comments submitted by the public and representatives of local Indian tribes and state agencies, PDS had withdrawn the mitigated determination of non-significance (MDNS) it issued for the proposed mine on April 25, 2021.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:  https://skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/gravelmineappealPL210348.htm

All of the mine permit application documents can be found here:
https://skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/gravelmine.htm

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

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: 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:

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!

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.

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.

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.