The latest findings, decisions and progress of the county’s Surface Mining Advisory Committee
VANCOUVER — On a Thursday evening, members of the Yacolt Mountain community and a representative from the mining operation, of the same name, traveled to Vancouver’s downtown to meet once again; high on the sixth floor of the county’s Public Service Center.
This was the third session of the county’s Surface Mining Advisory Committee (SMAC) to focus on the ongoing, multifaceted situation at Yacolt Mountain Quarry.
Still lead by Community Development Director Mitch Nickolds, the forum convened and began by welcoming the first of many experts to present on specific areas of concern regarding the mine.
For last month’s meeting, the group heard from Susan Ellinger, the land use manager for Clark County, and Jan Bazala,
the county’s community development planner.
Ellinger broke down the process for issuing, revising and revoking a conditional use permit (CUP); much like those held by Storedahl and Sons’ mining operations. The level of complexity for the issuing process depends on the nature of the intended use.
A scale of one through four, with sublevels indicated via “A,” “B” and so on, is used to categorize the complexity of any given CUP the county issues. For the Yacolt Mountain Quarry, the CUP is labeled a 2A.
The primary concern of residents, with regard to the CUP, is their ability to initiate the revision process. According to Ellinger, the only method as of now would be complete revocation via a report from neighbors citing breach of their current CUP.
“The population has tripled since the CUP went in,” one Clark County resident posed at May’s meeting. “Can the citizens come in and say, ‘actually, we would like a change?’ No one can answer that question.”
Ellinger responded, but made it clear that she was not prepared to answer questions of that nature, without possible legal council for the Land Use Department.
“We review development proposals, and the development proposal would be from the applicant,” she said. “The neighbors would have to make the argument that the operator was not complying with the requirements in their conditional use permit, to be able to go through the revocation process.”
Also discussed was an in depth survey, conducted through the months of April and May of 2019. The survey outlines public concerns with mining operations across the county.
A sample size of 960, with 314 focused specifically on Yacolt Mountain was used to generate the results. The survey asked respondents to rank their level of concern according to several variables including, environmental and health concerns, truck routes, blasting, hours of operation, landslide risk, and rebuilding trust.
Overall, respondents believed environmental protection along with air and water quality was of the greatest concern; with 40 percent placing it as their number one — the overall number two being truck routes at 23 percent.
Yacolt Mountain residents also placed environmental concerns highest, but with a slightly smaller lead on their number two selection of, also, truck routes. The percentages for residents was 37 and 30 percent, respectively.
As a result of the survey results, the next scheduled expert to attend the SMAC will be a representative from either the Northwest Clean Air Agency, the Washington State Department of Ecology, or the Department of Natural Resources.
Also discussed in recent forums, has been a breakdown of operations from mine operator, Bo Storedahl. In May, he provided a comprehensive explanation of the process of supplying rock to job sites and some of the difficulties in meeting demand.
For the last three years, need for aggregate in the county has been at peak demand, he said. In 2018, Storedahl’s mining operation had 225 jobs to meet, with each requiring from 10,000 to 100,000 tons of aggregate on each project.
“So that’s where the demand comes from,” Storedahl said. “It doesn’t come from my eagerness to put more trucks on the road, it’s just simply supplying a demand that’s there, and has been forecasted out for a period of six months to a year.”
Rebuttals from the neighbors surrounding the quarry referred to the possible dangers of letting the supply of rock dictate the growth of Clark County. Storedahl was quick to explain that would be a matter to be addressed with the county itself, not mine operators.
“There’s a lot of people in this county that rely on growth to feed their families,” Storedahl said. “It’s not just isolated to the people in this room, there’s thousands upon thousands of families that rely on the construction industry that would disagree with you.”
Again, focused on the issues of large amounts, and sometimes dangerous truck traffic, the committee inquired as to the future effectiveness of barging rock into the county rather than mining in places like Yacolt Mountain.
Storedahl replied saying he had seen the cost of barging, and did not think it would be viable economically for growing county for a longtime, if ever, nor a greener option.
“You talk about a carbon footprint, just because it’s coming off the river, you still have to get it to the job,” he said. “There’s still trucking, there’s still people that are affected by the trucking industry getting it from the river to the job site. It just becomes someone else’s problem, not your problem.”