Saturday, June 5, 2021

Skagit County Mine Woes

Complex of quarries that supply a community

Quarries for aggregate go through various phases on a local basis. Once a group of quarries gets established and the market supply is being met there is a period of stasis. But eventually the quarries exhaust the resource and new supplies must be found. Skagit County is going through one of those supply shifts and the disruption that goes with that change The three proposed mine sites each has particular issues and regulatory status with the issues described in the article. Besides the three mines in the article another mine is proposed to expand, but apparently no significant objections have arisen yet and a fifth mine is in the early stages of the permit process. 

The State Growth Management Act includes language regarding resource land protection. Resource lands typically include farm land, forest land and mineral resources. The approach that counties have taken on resource land protection varies. For mineral lands, the protection limits the land use that can take place on the or near the areas of mineral resources with the idea avoiding loosing the resource to being covered homes. 

An example of an excellent source of sand and gravel lost to use is Mercer Island in Lake Washington smack in the middle of an area of high demand in King County.

Mercer Island

Obviously when Mercer Island was initially developed there were plenty of resources elsewhere and development of the island proceeded and one could argue that delaying development of the island so a big chunk of it could be mined would not be an ideal scenario. 

Skagit County took a very broad approach that utilized mostly geology to designate large areas of the county for mineral resource protection. There was some consideration of preexisting conflict so that some areas were pulled out of the protection zone. However, when mine sites enter actual permitting, it is very clear that conflicts are still present or issues still require attention. Just because an area is designated for protection does not mean a guarantee to be permitted to mine. 

And there have been Skagit property owners that have sought to do the opposite of getting a mine permit, getting the property removed from designation as a mineral area. This can be done by demonstrating that the site is underlain by sand and gravel or that other issues would preclude ever being permitted to mine. One site was removed after the Planning Commission agreed that the site could not be mined due to the presence of high voltage electric transmission lines and a large volume natural gas pipeline. I would note further that the site was also underlain by a thick layer glacial till that was mostly silt and clay.       



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