A Washougal-area gravel mine that has drawn criticism from nearby residents, Clark County and the Columbia River Gorge Commission will apply for new permits.
Clark County already has held a pre-application conference and expects to receive requests for a conditional use permit and site plan review for mining and rock crushing, along with a Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area permit application, in the next one to two weeks, said Richard Daviau, the county’s Gorge planner.
All three requests will be reviewed concurrently, Daviau said. It may take a month or two for county officials to check the applications for completeness and address any omissions with the applicant, he said.
Once the applications are complete, that will trigger a 92-day timeline for a decision by one of the county’s two hearings examiners, Joe Turner or Daniel Kearns, a process that will include a public hearing, he said.
The mine, at 6303 S.E. 356th Ave., is east of Washougal city limits and inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Clark County, the Gorge Commission and nearby residents say the mine lacks a valid operating permit.
Attorneys for the mine’s owner, Judith Zimmerly, and its operator, Nutter Corp., disagree and have filed lawsuits challenging the Gorge Commission’s authority over the matter and its October 2019 written decision against the mine.
“We’re proceeding on all fronts at this point,” said Steve Horenstein, a Vancouver attorney representing Nutter.
Horenstein said the mine’s owner and operator are seeking new permits from the county as they continue to press their legal contention that they already have a valid permit.
“I know it’s unusual, but the reason is without the rock, we can’t build the roads,” he said.
The mine has drawn heated opposition from residents who say they have endured up to 200 trucks a day traveling at unsafe speeds, along with loud noise and large amounts of dust.
Rachel Grice, one of about a dozen residents who live near the mine and are defendants in the ongoing legal battle, said it’s “baffling” why it has taken the mine’s owner and operator so long to apply for permits.
Grice said she and other residents will participate in the upcoming process. Clark County should remember how Nutter has flouted county code when reviewing the pending applications, she said.
Another resident, Sean Streeter, criticized the county and Gorge Commission for not taking stronger enforcement against the mine.
Streeter said he hasn’t talked with any county employees for some time because it doesn’t do any good.
“It is just an exercise in frustration, more than anything,” he said.
Both Streeter and Grice said they are hopeful the county might reject the requested permits, but neither was particularly optimistic that will happen.
Last week, Clark County Superior Court Judge John Fairgrieve denied a request from Zimmerly and Nutter to stay, or halt, enforcement against the mine during legal appeals.
Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, an advocacy group, says the Zimmerly mine represents “the largest ongoing land use violation” in the 33-year history of the scenic area, which protects the picturesque canyon where the Columbia River slices through the Cascade Range.
Burt Edwards, communications director for Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, said Fairgrieve’s decision clears the way for enforcement of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area’s rules and Clark County’s mining code.
“Friends of the Columbia Gorge is calling for the executive director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission and Clark County’s new Code Administration Department to immediately enforce the law and prohibit the ongoing violations on this property,” Edwards wrote in an email.
Mitch Nickolds, Clark County code administration director, said the county will respond to complaints.
“With denial of the stay, we do not anticipate any unpermitted mining activity will occur on the premises until such time as the proper permit has been issued,” Nickolds wrote in an email. “However, as is our practice, Clark County will respond to, investigate and verify complaints of unpermitted mining activity and take appropriate enforcement action to gain compliance in the event violations of relevant codes and decisions are verified.”
Streeter said mining activity was occurring Monday afternoon.
“I can see the mine from my office,” he said. “They are trucking away materials they illegally mined.”
Streeter, when asked if hauling might not be considered mining activity, replied: “Our legal interpretation is that it’s indeed a violation because that is hauling material from the mine. They don’t have a permit to mine.”