Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tracks of the Bull Lake and Pinedale Glaciations

I did learn a little about the glacial history of the Rockies from my recent trip. After the views of glacial moraines and alluvial fans on the east side of the Lemhi Range in Idaho alluvial-fans-and-glacial-moraines, I had a great view of the upper Green River Valley. With the snow cover and just right sun angle, I had good view of the topography.
Upper Green River Valley. Note the lumpy glacial recession deposits.
The Green River is on the lower left. 
A bit further on I had a great view of the a series of glacial moraine lakes on the west side of the Wind River Range with obvious multiple terminal moraines including moraines that cross the lakes.  
New Forks Lakes

Fremont Lake and Willow Lake

Soda, Boulder, Burnt, and Half Moon Lakes along with a few others

The Wind River Range developed a full ice cap during glacial periods. The moraine lakes formed when the ice flowed out from the ice cap. There are still glaciers in the Wind River Range. The well preserved moraines are the type localities of the two latest ice ages in the Rockies. The Pinedale Glaciation is named for a town a bit west of Fremont Lake. The Bull Lake Glaciation in named for Bull Lake, a glacial moraine lake on the east side of the range. The extensive recessional deposits in the first picture in the upper Green River Valley were deposited during the older Bull Lake Glaciation.

The Pinedale Glaciation correlates with the Fraser Glaciation in Washington State. The Fraser was a continental glaciation between 20,000 and 13,000 years ago saw glacial ice flow out of ice caps in the Canadian Coast Range down through what is now Puget Sound and out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This same glacial period had continental ice covering the entire northern tier of Washington State.

The Bull Lake Glaciation may correlate with older continental glaciations by figuring out the dates is troublesome both in the Wind River Range and in the Puget Sound.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Link to DNR Rapid Assessment of the Ledgewood Slide on Whidbey Island

Department of Natural Resources Geology Division put together a report on the Ledgewood Landslide on Whidbey Island. Fast action assessment. But exciting work.

Just a few points: 1) This is not a new landslide. All but a small part of the headwall scarp were within an area that had already had failed. It is just that this time a lot failed at once.
2) The deep-seated rotational component was impressive - the beach was uplifted 30 feet. It is not clear how much of that is from pure rotation and how much from the secondary translational part. 3) Now that so much of the slide area has been evacuated, the risk of future expansion of the slide complex is greatly increased. 

Ledgewood Slide on Whidbey Island

I heard about the landslide on Whidbey Island via the national news late in the day. I was fairly certain that the slide was at Ledgewood based on the news descriptions of the size and that there were homes on the slide. When I got to the motel, I found Hugh Shipman had paid the site a visit to Ledgewood:

There are a fair number of homes on this landslide complex. Some of the coherent slide blocks made appealing looking benches for home sites and road routes. These types of slides tend to take place after particularly wet winters, although other factors play a roles as well. Besides being a wet winter there has been a fair bit of shore line erosion events this winter as well.

I have only been to the Ledgewood slide once and that was to access another shoreline bluff which fortunately had different geology.

This is the second deep-seated slide movement I know of thus far this late winter and early spring within the Salish Sea shorelines. Another deep-seated slide has had movement this winter at the southeast tip of the Bolton Peninsula at Dabob Bay. I might have to do a few side trips to check out a few others over the next month or so.   

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The High Plains in Various Light

NASA put up images of one of my destinations on the Earth Observatory Image of the Day The top image is in plain light the second is derived from a combination of visible and infrared.


Visible and infrared

The infrared provides a great deal of information about what is going on with vegetation. By enhancing colors to show the results of the infrared, vegetation nuances either not visible or difficult to see can readily be observed. The red areas on the image stand out and happen to be areas that burned within the last year..

I got my own enhanced view of the Fort Collins area that at least in part covers the same area at the NASA image. A recent heavy snow fall enhanced the ability to see lots of features. Hence, no distracting colors - a black and white world. Although temperatures were single digits, the lakes and ponds had not frozen over yet.

 The ponds and lakes are a combination of small dammed creeks used to hold and store water for irrigation or stock watering (or once were and are now recreational) and former gravel mines. A long string of gravel mine ponds can be seen along the flood plain between the city and the interstate freeway in the bottom left of the image. These same gravel mine ponds show up very well in the infrared.

I suspect this last image would show up as a bright infrared grid. The site is a feed lot with snow less patches the result of either cattle in the pens or the warmth generated by the layers of breaking down organics left in the pens.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Alluvial Fans and Glacial Moraines, Lehmi Range

Before spotting the cinder cone hiding in the crop circles crop-circle-cinder-cone, I had a great view Idaho's Lehmi Range. I was admiring the alluvial fans built up on the southeast side of the range. I have done a fair number of alluvial fan projects as a geologist and have been on the policy making and money spending side of a few alluvial fans as well - hence my enthusiasm.
But in the image below there is more than just alluvial fan deposits on the lower slopes of the range. The first image has three glacial moraines extending onto the lower slopes beyond the mountain front. These alluvial fans are visible in Google Earth as well as other satellite images. But the new, just-the-right-amount of snow and sun angle allowed for a very excellent and obvious view.
Glacial moraine in center of picture is built out on top of the main bulk of the alluvial fan.
There are two other moraines in the image. on the far right and far left 

Another angle showing two of the moraines

Closer view of the south moraine
The road is Idaho Highway 28
The southern moraine includes an older subdued moraine well out from the mountain front that has been at least partially breached by stream erosion and partially buried by alluvial sediments. I am outside my understanding of Rocky Mountain glaciation. The Pinedale Glaciation is associated with the last continental glaciation that brought glacial ice into what is now the Puget Sound region and the entire northern tier of Washington. Dort Wakefield gsa/2003RM/finalprogram/abstract correlates some of the glaciation that reached the valley as Bull Lake age - a much older glacial period in the Rocky Mountain ranges. Perhaps, the outer moraine is the older Bull Lake variety.  
These alluvial fans have a lot more history than the very young fans I have worked on in western Washington. Lots to figure out regarding past climate, uplift history and erosion history.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Crop Circle Cinder Cone

Traveling, so I'll be distracted from the Washington landscape.
In the mean time I had remarkable light on the first leg of my trip. More pics later, but I enjoyed spotting this cinder cone hiding out amongst some crop circles in Idaho.

The cone is called Big Grassy Butte and is located in eastern Idaho. It is in an area of low cones and lava fields of mostly basalt associated with the Yellowstone Hot Spot. This area does not have the continental crust component that makes the Yellowstone Caldera so explosive. Big Grassy Butte rises about 150 feet above the surrounding plain and a somewhat smaller than average irrigated crop circle is farmed in its crater.

Google Aerial Location HERE.


Friday, March 22, 2013

One of the Reconveyance Heroes: Sam Crawford

Over the past week I have been mulling the Whatcom County Council's approval of the 8,800 acre Lake Whatcom Reconveyance.

Is there anything worth adding to this issue?

Last June I wrote a lengthily post on the history and process up to that point in time lake-whatcom-reconveyance. That post could use some editing and beefing up as the process has been a long one and for Whatcom County a big deal. Since then the only substantive write up I did was a discussion of the on base forest land in the reconveyance area lake-whatcom-forest-reserve-park-on-base-forest-acres. To be honest, the post regarding on base forest acres was to blunt the claims that 8,800 acres was being removed from forestry.

After the Council voted 5-2 last week to approve the reconveyance, a friend pointed out that the reconveyance required a near perfect alignment of key individual people at key times. Over the past week while meandering nearly 1,000 miles over the Pacific Northwest landscape, I thought a great deal about those key individuals. And I thought about how great policy is almost always the result of individual actions by individual people at just the right time.

Not to diminish other key people, but I feel it entirely appropriate to praise County Council Member Sam Crawford.

Most of the time we hope that elected officials will be open minded, will attempt to represent all of their constituents not just their ideological tribe, will work hard to understand issues, and yes, be careful with government finances. Sam Crawford has been solid in his support of the reconveyance throughout the process. He exhibited all of the qualities we want in an elected official on this issue. His path toward environmental protection and enhancement is different than what is typically desired by enviro types, but I would argue that it can be effective and conservative. And it should be celebrated.

What has become clear throughout this process is that Mr. Crawford loves the natural world. Sam is very much a conservative Republican, and as a member of that tribe he is and has been a property rights advocate with a long record of taking a dubious view of environmental regulation.

There are some lessons here.

For enviro types, there should be great celebration that a conservative County Council Member would so strongly and steadfastly support one of the largest county parks in the entire country. And the idea that enhancing and protecting the environment and community values crosses party/tribal lines. We need environmentally minded conservatives and business people. And those types need to be recognized and given some room to maneuver.

For some fiscal conservative types - Whatcom County just created an 8,800 acre park for the cost of doing the surveys. And regardless of the rhetoric the timber industry will not collapse (in fact there very likely will be some timber harvest), there is a plan for funding the park that will be of minimal cost to the county, and the park will provide multiple benefits including economic opportunities. Being too rigid will do little for improving our community.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

BGS Summary of Stainforth Coal Pile Failure

Dave Petley alerted readers of his landslide blog to the British Geologic Survey initial assessment of the coal pile failure in South Yorkshire

I had enjoyed my own long distance assessment of the failure coal-trains-landslides-and-long-distance-geology. The BGS site followed a similar approach which was fun to see, but I included the soil map of the area in my write up. The BGS did go through some old maps of land use in the area and noted the presence of brick kilns and significant drainage on farm fields. Both indicative of soft clays underlying the site. So the main suspect is the underlying soft alluvial soils failing under the coal pile.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SB5805 Won't Advance

Washington State Senate Bill SB5805 sb5805-pit-to-pier-gravel-and-landslides has been reported as dead. Under the Growth Management Act, planning counties (small population counties only need to address a few items) must establish mineral resource areas essentially to protect the areas from being developed.

The problem is that gravel deposits and high quality rock are not evenly distributed between counties nor is the demand. High population and rapidly growing counties have large demand and construction gravel and sand is often far or hard to get to where the market demand is high. Some counties with low population and low demand have vast gravel deposits.

A simple but very real example is the Seattle waterfront area. Gravel and concrete and rock and sand are all needed for big construction projects. Trucking material in through heavy traffic on city streets is expensive and the source of material is a long drive.    

Barge of gravel entering Seattle's Elliot Bay

Under the Growth Management Act, counties are supposed to reserve mineral resource areas for their own supply. But this approach is very localized and may pose a problem on a broader state level. To a degree, the issue of the pit to pier project in Jefferson County underlines this problem. That said a blunt approach that circumvents the local community without any clear guidance regarding state need or the broader impacts is a poorly thought through approach.

I suspect that the motivation behind SB5805 had very little to do with the broader issue of aggregate supply within the state. As the picture above shows, gravel is moving via water in Washington State. If the concern is supply and getting materials to needed projects much more vetting will be needed before bringing the right legislation forward. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Landslide Adventures and a Close Call

The last few days including the weekend have been a bit heavy on field work with some work a bit out of the way. Most of the work was geology hazard stuff. A sampling of some landslide adventures. 
Roads are long semi linear features to get from one point to another. As such unstable slopes are sometimes unavoidable.
Slide areas are expected on steep slopes, but in this case the steep slope is a fair bit away from the road. Regardless about 2/3 of the road has dropped several inches and has been patched multiple times. I traced the main fracture from the edge of the road approximately 150 feet across the clear cut harvest area - all on essentially flat ground. A secondary ground fracture happened to have opened right at the sign; hence, the sign was twisted sideways. If this slide progresses to a full collapse, the road fix is going to get more expensive than a bit of asphalt to smooth the dip.
The above home is for sale. It has been red tagged as the landslide complex on the site has expanded and reached the home's foundation. The sale fliers do note that the home can can not be occupied. It will need to be moved or left to its fate. The home was located 280 feet back from the top edge of the shoreline bluff slope. However, the entire upland between the home and the top edge of the bluff has begun to fail. Large stretches of this landslide reactivated in the past few years.
Note fractures in the former yard area and a few tilting trees on the slide area.
Sam found another slide's source when she sunk to her belly in what could be described as "baby diarrhea". Springs of very fluid mud on the slope were causing the slope above to drop and unfortunately a couple roads as well.

View up slope to scarp across road
The slide shown below shows the another road traversing across the upper headwall area of a slide. A new scarp can be seen just to the lower right of the orange sign in the distance on the right side of the picture. I would note that the road itself added some mass onto the slope. The relatively recent timber harvest likely has resulted in additional water onto the slide. And this winter has been on the wet side with this particular area having been impacted by well above average rain fall in the late fall.
My biggest excitement was exploring the stability of the slopes in a ravine where I documented a number of slides of various ages.
The lack of trees and sword ferns in the central part of the image and on the far left are from past shallow slides on the slope and the debris on the lower right is from a slide this past winter.

Recent shallow failures on the lower slope causing the slope above to become unstable
I recorded numerous slides within this deep and steep ravine. After a rough scramble back up the slope to the top I was chatting with someone about my ventures when a slope in the ravine slid taking several trees to the bottom of the ravine. Based on my notes and mapping, the slide took place at the spot pictured above. Yikes! I had very little interest in verifying if in fact it was the slope pictured above that failed. Creepy, nasty ravine.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Boats, Skunk Cabbage, a Camel and Mangled Rock

Took a trip out to San Juan Island for a bit of work. The ride out was a good day for boat spotting.
Tanker and its escort tug with Cypress Island behind
Commercial ship traffic passes in bound on the east side of the San Juan Islands and out bound on the west side of the San Juan Islands. Most of the ships are heading to Vancouver or Tawasen in British Columbia, Canada or to piers at Cherry Point in Whatcom County Washington. The Whatcom County piers are for oil refineries or an aluminum smelter. The above passage may see increased ship traffic if a coal terminal is built at Cherry Point or an oil pipeline is extended to Vancouver.
Canadian battleship in U.S. waters
This Canadian battleship was plying the waters between Blakely Island and Lopez Island. Testament to our very cooperative and peaceful relations with Canada.

Propane delivery

Many San Juan Islanders stay warm with propane as natural gas (methane) is not available in the islands. Propane barges are a routine site.

Skunk cabbage in bloom

Once on San Juan Island I had the pleasure of traversing a skunk cabbage bloom in a forested wetland. The wetland is the result of concrete like glacial till underlying the site. The skunk cabbage a sign of early spring.

This was a surprise

Besides being a bit surprised seeing a camel, I am always a bit surprised at how big they are.

Mangled Orcas Formation
I did get to see some very cool bedrock geology as a secondary pleasure on this work venture. Got to spend a little time scratching my head over a nice exposure of really mangled and sheared Orcas Chert as mapped by Vance (1975).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lake Whatcom Reconveyance Hallelujah

Lake Whatcom Reconveyance and Amy MacDonald sums up how I feel after the Whatcom County Council vote late this evening. I did put some effort into this scheme as did lots of other folks - so yes, Hallelujah.

I began working on public forest land issues in the Lake Whatcom watershed in 1998. I along with my fellow committee members put in hundreds of volunteer hours working on the landscape plan with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources staff in developing a compromise forest management plan. Once the planning was completed I experienced the multiple efforts to undermine the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan and noted that deferred objectives to be worked on by joint committee overseeing implementation of the plan were never worked on.

The idea to reconvey these lands back to county management is so that they can be managed in a manner that reflects the values of our local county resolves many issues. I believe it is better that the current county leaders made this decision versus an advocate like me. Feels all the better after the early resistance to the idea. And it reflects well on the open mindedness of the majority of the council and the current County Executive. I am confident that the end result will be something many in our community can be proud of.

So some more happiness from Amy MacDonald with a song she wrote - What Happiness Means to Me:


Monday, March 11, 2013

Samish Flats

Had a nearby slope inspection and on the way had had a great view of the Samish Flats tide lands. The Samish flats area broad nearly level swath of mostly farm land in northwest Skagit County. The Samish Flats blend and join the Skagit Flats, both being named for their respective rivers. I suspect that the majority of the alluvial sediments on the Samish Flats is from the Skagit River as well.

In the upper image the farm land on the left is protected from tidal flooding by a series of levies. The steam columns in the distance are from the Anacortes oil refineries. Have not had many sunsets this past winter so it was nice to a sunset for a change.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pending Lake Whatcom Reconveyance

The Whatcom County Council will vote on reconveyance of 8,800 acres of Forest Board Land in the Lake Whatcom watershed from State management to County management this next Tuesday, March 12, 2013. I already put up a long history of the lake-whatcom-reconveyance for an understanding how things have proceeded over time - 30 years.

Ralph Schwartz at the Herald has the task of covering the issue for the Bellingham Herald. Not an easy task given the complex and long history and newspaper constraints combined with political and policy passion. His latest take ive-got-your-reconveyance-right-here.

The county council was close to taking a vote on the reconveyance last September, but held off to consider various issues regarding management of the park and more fully vet the park planning for the reconveyed land. This led to the county administration putting together a series of very informative presentations on the proposed park. The presentations cover costs, forest management, and recreational planning and can be seen at

The presentations have been very useful and thought provoking in terms of the management opportunities the locally controlled park will provide. And given the fact the county will be managing this land, it was very important for the council members to understand and provide input regarding the park plan. At this point, council members should be fairly comfortable with the park plans and management and the role the council can have in shaping how the park will be managed for water quality and recreation, and how the forest within the park will be managed including potential revenue sources. All good issues that require vetting before final action.

The debates over recreation, water quality and forest management all are important items in regards to how the land should be managed. I have nothing to add on these issues at this point that would be new. By this point it should be clear that the issues of how the park will be managed are not absolutest as some would otherwise state. But the question before the Council is Does the County want to have control over these matters on the Forest Board Lands in the watershed or should it be left to the State Board of Natural Resources?

In the 1920s as counties around the state accumulated cut over abandoned lands there was a need for the state to step in and manage these mangled and fire prone landscapes. Hence, Forest Board Lands to be managed by the state were created. At the time one county, Grays Harbor County, opted out of state management for all of its Forest Board Lands and has ever since been managing its own Forest Board Lands for recreation, watershed protection and forestry - all the same issues facing the Whatcom County Council in regards to the Lake Whatcom watershed. The law setting up the Forest Board Lands anticipated that over time Counties might want to opt to manage Forest Board Lands, but the State did not want counties selling off the land and hence placed the constraint that reconveyed land must be managed as public park land. The specifics of the park management will be up to the County.

Counties with significant revenue streams from Forest Board Lands tend to push hard for maximum revenue generation and even in the mid 1990s pushed for an across the board reconveyance. The pressure for revenue generation and minimizing management costs has limited the ability of the Department of Natural Resources to do other management activities unless directly funded or ordered to by the State Legislature.

Hence, even modest protections that were added to the Lake Whatcom watershed were vehemently opposed by other Forest Board Land counties. There was even a fund set up and coordinated by Skagit County to attempt to over turn the modest protections put in place via the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan.

The Board of Natural Resources position was summed up in 2004 by Member Bruce Bare, "Therefore, I believe that the Department should: (a) immediately undertake to investigate ways to transfer ownership of appropriate state lands out of the watershed (Lake Whatcom) and (b) seek ways to compensate trust beneficiaries for unwarranted reductions in asset value induced by the preferred landscape alternative."

Dr. Bare's view is not unique. This is the institutional view of the regarding State management of Forest Board Lands - there must be compensation for non revenue generating activities.

That is the choice the County Council has been working on over the past seven years; management by the State with all the broad state-wide issues that go with that management or local management by the county that focuses on the needs and values of the local community.   

Friday, March 8, 2013

Seattle's Magnolia Bluffs

Came across some old photographs I have of a classic Washington State geology site - Seattle's Magnolia bluffs AERIAL VIEW. The bluffs are located on the west side of of the Magnolia neighborhood. A large public park that was formerly part of Fort Lawton provides a wild landscape within the city.

The uppermost part of the bluff is nearly all sand. At the time of the pictures the upper bluff slope was a wind eroded landscape. The base of the bluff is a series of finely bedded alternating layers of clays and silts with some fine sand layers.

Upper Magnolia Bluff

Base of Magnolia Bluffs 
Close up of base of bluff sediments

The upper sand unit is locally referred to as the Esperance Sand and the silt clay unit at the base of the bluff is locally called the Lawton Clay. These two units are a common sequence in the central Puget Sound bluffs and the unit terms are commonly used elsewhere as they are relatively recognizable units.

When glacial ice advanced out of the north into Puget Sound approximately 18,000 years ago the ice blocked the outlet of water to the north forming a deep glacial margin lake in what is now central Puget Sound. Initially glacial meltwater and streams flowing into the lake laid down the silts and clays of the Lawton Clay in alternating layers associated with the ebb and flow of meltwater flowing into the lake. As the ice advanced meltwater streams from the advancing ice dumped huge loads of sediment into the lake and as the ice got closer the lake became filled with sediment and sand became the dominant sediment forming the Esperance Sand.

Both the sand unit and underlying clay were over ridden by glacial ice and were highly compacted. The Lawton Clay was highly compressed and now stands as steep somewhat erosion resistant bluff slopes. The lack of clay and silt in overlying Esperance Sand means that sand has little cohesion. Hence, even though the Esperance sand is very compact, it readily erodes and looses stability when wet. 

So at Magnolia Bluffs we have a great recipe for landslides: very compact, very low permeability Lawton Clay with low cohesion Esperance Sand sitting on top of it. It does rain in Seattle. The rain readily infiltrates into the and down through the sand until it reaches the clay. At that point the water can not go down and becomes perched on top of the clay and flows along the top of the clay. At Magnolia Bluffs the top of the clay slopes towards the bluff slope. 

If the volume of perched groundwater builds up enough the sand bluffs become like sand castles at the beach getting wet - they collapse. A hike or scramble down the bluff slopes lead to springs and flowing streams from the perched water above the Lawton Clay and within the Esperance Sand.   

Stream flowing across top of Lawton Clay with sand slope above

Jack strawed forest on a slide area
At the time of my venture on the slope I traversed a bizarre landscape of hummocky ground with trees pointed in all sorts of directions. 

Large madrone tree hanging by roots over the edge of the bluff

Esperance Sand at the headwall scarp of slide complex to the right
The pictures shown above are from the park area. But down the coast is the now infamous Perkins Lane where homes built on the bluff were lost after a very wet weather event in 2007. 

Perkins Lane on landslide area 1990

Perkins Lane area 2002

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Commute Trips in King County

The U.S. Census has a report on commute time, distance and methods (they do have lots of data). The average U.S commute time is about 25 minutes and the average distance is 25 miles. I lower the average with a 10 minute commute and a distance of a bit under 1 mile. I am also in a decided minority that commutes on foot - the pleasure cost saving of urban living.

But I do witness Washington State's big commute center on a fairly routine basis as part of working. For non King County commuters King County seems like a place of brutal commutes. The census report on King County Commutes put things in to perspective relative to other places.

King County turns out to pretty average in regards to commute time and commute distance compared to the national numbers.

King County public transportation use of 10.5% is about twice the national average. Fairly impressive given that except for a very limited area served by the new Sound Transit rail, King County public transit commuters must rely on buses. By further comparison public transit use compares well with Multnomah County's (Portland Oregon) 11.9% and Multnomah's public rail system. This may be in part due to the size difference between the two cities and the higher cost of parking in the urban core areas of Seattle. The percent of bikers in King County is 1.5% and again impressive given a national average of 0.6% and the fact Seattle is rainy and very hilly. But Multnomah County's bike percent is an impressive 5.4%.

One more tid bit regarding Portland. Over 46,000 Washington State residences commute into Multnomah County Oregon each day and only 7,000 Multnomah residences commute into Washington State. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Bit More on Pit to Pier

Proposed Pit to Pier

A bit of a followup on the Pit to Pier sb5805-pit-to-pier-gravel-and-landslides. I wrote the post to provide some information on the Pit to Pier project because it was raised as the impetus for proposed Washington State Senate Bill SB 5805 by sponsors. The Everett Herald reported bill sponsor Senator Hobbs "is trying to assist Thorndyke Resources, which has spent a dozen years seeking approval to mine gravel and sand in Shine on the west end of the Hood Canal bridge". The idea according to primary sponsor is that bill is not about coal terminals but about a gravel mine and pier project on Hood Canal.

While it is understandable that coal terminal proponents might be concerned, I wanted to provide some background on the Hood Canal Pit to Pier project. And given the off the beaten path of the Shine area far from populations centers and far from coal terminal proposals I suspect that the reporters and for that matter legislators know very little about the project area. As John Stark, reporter for the Bellingham Herald said, "Thanks for the background".

So a little more background in part inspired by the Everett Herald report that Thorndyke Resources "has spent dozens of years seeking approval to mine gravel and sand in Shine".

To clarify, mining has been taking place at the Shine site for years. Jefferson County has granted the zoning to mine a large area of the deposit and mine permits via the Department of Natural Resources have been issued and mining has been an ongoing operation at the site for dozens of years. There is no issue with mining permits slowing down mining.

Regarding the pier. Yes, a permit was submitted in 2002, but submitting a permit application and actually working on it are two different things. Building a two mile conveyor belt and a 1,000-foot long pier over tidal areas is not a small project. No substantive work or studies have taken place since 2007. While there is no doubt that there is opposition to the pit to pier project, the fact that the project has not moved forward is also the result of very little effort by the applicant thus far.

There plenty of concerns about this project beyond the geology, but I will repeat the proposed conveyor and pier locations cross and are located on areas of known deep-seated landslides that have a history of recent movement and will fail again. Deep, rotational blocks that uplift the beach are located within the particular unit underlying the area at multiple locations in the vicinity. Hence, it is not a matter of simply moving the pier location a bit to some other spot, I have observed evidence of beach uplift at 5 different locations between Thorndyke Bay and Hood Canal Bridge all within the same hard silt/clay unit. Further, the bluff slope above the pier location is very steep and subject to shallow slides. This not some modest bluff; it is 360 feet high with 200 feet of very steep slope. And I mean steep - walking this slope will require the use of your hands and in some places is not passable.
Building a pier at this location would require some optimism regarding the frequency of landslides that the history of the area does not support.
Besides the landslides, take a close look at the above proposed pier map. Just off the pier site is an area labeled Naval Exercise Area. The upper northern section of Hood Canal is the location of the Bangor Nuclear Submarine Base. Not only is Hood Canal a submarine base, but the Navy routinely conducts submarine exercises within these waters. The presence of large barges and ship traffic is likely an issue that the Navy would comment on in rather strong terms.
In order for ships to access Hood Canal, boats must pass through the Hood Canal Floating Bridge. Only small ships are able to pass under the relatively small elevated section of the bridge. Otherwise the bridge must swing open to allow the passage of ships. Currently very few ships pass through requiring the bridge to open. Occasionally naval ships pass through including submarines causing long delays on the bridge. I stopped once for a small but high masted sail boat and the wait was on the order of 20 minutes.
Currently, with the exception of the sub base, there are no industrial piers anywhere on the entire length of Hood Canal, and for the most part except for the upper (south end) Hood Canal shoreline and slopes are rural or natural. The construction of a pier would be a precedent.
While this gravel deposit is of outstanding size and quality, getting the material to market is not a simple slam dunk pier proposal. SB 5805 may be a concern for coal terminal proponents, but the reported purpose of the bill to aid a gravel mine pier with very significant issues is even more troubling.  

Geomorphic Photo Glory

This past week I went up to Western Washington University (by up, I mean WWU is up hill from my office and home in Bellingham) to see Dave Montgomery's talk on his latest book The Rocks Don't Lie. More on the book after I read it. Coincidentally, I was contacted the next day by a book publisher regarding the use of the photo above that was on a post on giant glacial erratics glacial-erratics-near-grand-coulee-dam. The book - a text on geomorpholgy by Dave Montgomery and Paul Bierman. I don't know the context of the use of the picture, but it is nice to make a small contribution.
The photo is a view of landslides on the slopes of glacial lake terraces downstream of Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. The lake formed when the river was blocked by glacial ice from the Okanogan Ice Lobe during the last glacial period.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

SB5805, Pit to Pier, Gravel and Landslides

This post provides some observations on the proposed pit to pier project in Jefferson County. I have had no involvement with this project in favor or opposed. But I am and have been very interested in the geology of the area.

A proposed bill in the Washington State Senate SB 5805 has a general goal of speeding up the regulatory process for commodity transportation projects. John Stark at the Bellingham Herald has provided coverage on the proposed bill HERE.  It has some business support and union support. Sponsors are claiming the proposal has nothing to do with the coal terminal proposal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County and cite the proposed Pit To Pier project on Hood Canal as the driver for the bill. Indeed this sort of bill has been put forward a number of times over the past number of years but has never gotten as far in the legislative process. Regardless, speeding up pier proposals is an alarming thing to coal export opponents.

So what is the Pit To Pier project? Just west of the Hood Canal Bridge is a massive sand and gravel deposit. The deposit was mined initially to supply the local highway construction and the Hood Canal Bridge construction. In the late 1990s mining in the area expanded with a fair bit trucked over the Hood Canal Bridge and down to Poulsbo and Bremerton.

Mine site
Hood Canal Bridge in upper right
Main mine is in upper center

I am not entirely sure exactly how the deposit formed, but it appears to be in part related to a big glacial meltwater ouflow route associated with the retreating glacial ice during the late stages of the last glacial period and there are some nuances of how the gravel was moved and deposited that lead to significant portions of the deposit being very high quality material. Its a huge deposit that extends way beyond the existing mine area. From a gravel mining resource perspective this deposit is big.

The deposit has some other great aspects. It is located right next to a highway and it is located within an area that is nearly entirely commercial forest land and hence limited impact to nearby homes. The down side of the deposit is that it is a long truck haul to the market locations where the gravel would be in demand. (Disclaimer - I have done some market assessments for other gravel deposits within part of the market area of this deposit.)

The Pit To Pier concept would reduce transportation costs enormously and create opportunities to greatly expand the market area of this deposit. If the sand and gravel can be loaded onto barges near the deposit the market area would included port locations throughout the Salish Sea and likely even to other west coast locations. By example: a construction site in Seattle will need gravel, but getting gravel into a urban area via truck is a huge cost and the mine sites via truck are a long way away.

In 2002 Fred Hill Materials the owner of the deposit applied for constructing a conveyor belt system that would transport sand and gravel to a pier on Hood Canal a couple of miles south of the pit area. At about the same time the company applied to expand the Mineral Resource Overlay designation to 6,240 acres (yes, it is a big deposit).

Topo map of proposed conveyor route 

Proposed conveyor route and pier location in application
The combination of a very large gravel mine area with a pier for shipping has generated some opposition. Jefferson County did grant an expansion of the mineral overlay expansion of 690 acres. Counties are required under the Growth Management Act to consider construction aggregate supply. In general the Growth Management Hearings Board has been very deferential to counties in how this is done. Overall Jefferson County has a fairly straight forward process and does not have a shortage of gravel. This deposit could serve part of the county, but the bulk of it will be and has been exported out of the county.

The pier part of the project has not progressed much thus far. An EIS contractor was selected but thus far very little work has been done on the EIS and the original proponent Fred Hill Materials sold the pit and just last year entered bankruptcy. The pit is now owned by another gravel company. A quick look at the Jefferson County permit center for the pier property shows no activity since 2007 and even that more recent activity was minor. Based on the lack of study and progress on this project, it does seem baseless to blame opposition to slowing the pier project. What I suspect is that pier proponents see the writing on the wall that it is going to be very difficult to get this project through the permit process without a break via state legislation.

While the gravel deposits and gravel market issues as well as the policy are of some interest to me, the conveyor belt route and pier location is an area I have been interested in long before this scheme was proposed. The proposed conveyor route and pier are located in an area of deep-seated landslides.

LiDAR image of conveyor and pier location
Click to enlarge - the conveyor would cross parcel 721191001 and 721194002
Note very large slide complex extending from shore to northwest of Thorndyke Road
The entire shore area is underlain by deep-seated failures
The LiDAR image shows some very obvious deep-seated landslide complex systems. The very large deep-seated landslide complex on the upper right of the image had significant movement in 1998 severely damaging Thorndyke Road and numerous deep-seated failures as well as shallow surface slides took place all along this reach of shoreline. Deep-seated slide movement took place on the lower end of the proposed conveyor route. Portions of the deep-seated sliding in the area had slope movement with as much as 20 feet of offset. Hundreds of feet of the beach in this area was uplifted as the deep-seated rotational failure took place.

It is hard to imagine that the applicant was not aware of the slope stability problems in this area. I suppose slope failures could be worked around in some manner, and if the slide area reactivates, which it will, the damage could be repaired. That said, this slide complex is not mapped in a manner consistent with the hazard on the usual slope stability and landslide maps of the area.

2000 Aerial showing recent shallow sliding as well as a deep seated scarp in upper center

2006 aerial showing the wide tide flat - the pier will need to be 1,000 feet long across the tide flat

I was very interested in this landslide complex when it moved in 1998 and made several visits to the slide area that year.

Uplifted beach and houses

Uplifted beach. Proposed pier location is a bit beyond person on beach

Slide area at the pier property

Exposed clay from older beach uplifts
View of rupture and uplifted beach (gravel) with older silt/clay unit underneath also uplifted
I took the pictures above in 1998 well before the proposed pier idea. My purpose was simply to document the deep-seated landslide and uplifted beach. Uplifted beaches get eroded very rapidly so I was keen on getting some pictures of this slide. I gave a talk on this landslide back in 1998.