A criticized and scrutinized quarry east of Vancouver has reopened after Clark County updated an agreement with its operator.
The county and Tower Rock Products, a subsidiary of Tapani Inc., had disputed the operating contract for Livingston Quarry since December 2017, when the previous agreement expired. Tower Rock had argued that the previous contract gave them the option to renew, while the county sought to renegotiate the agreement.
On Wednesday afternoon, the county council authorized County Manager Shawn Henessee to sign updates to the contract. The revised agreement is intended to address operational issues raised by neighbors, such as hours of operation and truck trips, and to bring more oversight to the quarry.
The contract’s update follows months of negotiations and an uneasy history at the quarry. It’s drawn the ire of neighbors who have complained of truck traffic and possible pollution. In January, the Department of Natural Resources issued the county and Tower Rock a stop-work order for Livingston Quarry over management issues and ambiguity over the contract’s validity. Last month, a state auditor’s report found the department had failed to adequately monitor the quarry, leading to improper handling of material.
Tower Rock’s attorney was on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring said that the county took into consideration residents’ concerns and noted that the revised contract puts in place a plan to conclude operations at the quarry. But she said she’s still receiving emails from “neighbors that are not happy.”
“Hopefully, the operator and the neighbors will see eye-to-eye and get that finished and still have gravel in the county,” said Quiring.
With an updated contract in place and its concerns addressed, the department sent residents a notification Thursday that the stop-work order had been lifted.
Livingston Mountain, north of Camas and east of Vancouver, is home to a gravel mine. The mine is split into two sites that are operated through a set of related contracts. Tower Rock owns and operates one side of the quarry, referred to as “Livingston Mountain Quarry.” The other side, Livingston Quarry, is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources, which leases it to Clark County. Since 2011, the county has contracted with Tower Rock to mine its portion, which is nearly depleted. Tower Rock contracts with J.L. Storedahl & Sons to operate each site.
Noting the amount of public interest in the quarry, the council had earlier discussed approving the contract updates at one of its regular Tuesday evening meetings held in its sixth-floor hearing room. Documents are posted in advance for these meetings and the public is allowed to offer comment. These meetings are also broadcast on CVTV.
Instead, the council’s actions on the contract occurred during its council time meeting. These meetings are not broadcast and are held in a conference room where public comment is not taken. Although the contract was listed on the meeting’s agenda, no documents were posted online in advance and the meeting’s agenda did not specify that the council would be taking action.
Quiring said that the meeting included a staff presentation, discussion and a unanimous vote by the council — none of which she said was legally required. She said that Henessee could have just signed the contract. Quiring said that she didn’t know why documents were not posted in advance. She said the contract updates weren’t ready the prior week and that there was no effort by the council to reduce transparency. She added that residents had previously voiced their concerns.
“If the neighbors would have come to speak, they would have said the same thing they’ve been saying for the last two years,” she said.
Under the updated contract, the new regular hours of operation for Livingston Quarry will be from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. most of the year, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in July and August, which is intended to prevent trucks from being on the road at the same time as school buses.
Tower Rock will be allowed 70 loaded trips daily from Monday through Friday and will be allowed to operate on 25 Saturdays per year. Tower Rock must give the county written notice and approval of “peak operations,” which will be limited to 140 trips per day. Tower Rock will also have to submit trip tickets each Monday, which Quiring said is to better monitor material coming out and how much money is owed to the county.
The updated contract also lays out a timeline for closing Livingston Quarry. It specifies that mining will be completed by Dec. 31, 2020; equipment will be removed by June 30, 2021; reclamation grading will be completed by Dec. 31, 2021, and plants will be seeded by June 30, 2022.
One outstanding issue, for now, is whether Tower Rock can combine trips allowed under the conditional use permit for the Livingston Mountain Quarry side with the Livingston Quarry side. Last year, the county council requested a legal opinion on the question. The contract requires Tower Rock to apply for and fund a review of the conditional use permit.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Clark County Director of Public Works Ahmad Qayoumi told the council that Tower Rock has removed a rock crusher that the county had not been notified about. He also said that the Department of Natural Resources would be keeping a closer eye on the site.
In July, the state auditor’s office issued a report that described how Storedahl had mishandled material at Livingston Quarry, possibly depriving the state of revenue. The report also found that Storedahl had brought in dredged sand and stored it on Department of Natural Resources land without authorization.
Storedahl was required to have the sand tested for contamination by the Department of Ecology. Earlier this month, Connie Groven, environmental engineer and cleanup manager at Ecology, told The Columbian that in response an investigation was initiated into possible contamination. She said that a sample of the roughly 300 tons of sand was tested for petroleum products and other toxins and was found to be uncontaminated.
“I think this is firmly bringing them into control,” said Quiring of the updated contract. “I think this sets this in better order and I expect it to go much smoother.”
The updated contract prohibits Tower Rock from bringing in dredged material and to pay the county a monthly stockpiling fee of $470 and $350 for past stockpiling from December 2018.
Tower Rock and Storedahl said the issues have been resolved. The Department of Natural Resources has approved a plan of operations for the quarry.