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.  

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