Company Gets Approval to Expand Mining in Vancouver, Wash., Area
Nov. 5—VANCOUVER, Wash. — J.L. Storedahl & Sons can go ahead with a plan to expand gravel mining on about 100 acres at its Daybreak operation near the East Fork of the Lewis River, a hearings examiner has ruled.
The controversial project, which would remove as much as 15 million tons of rock and require digging new gravel pits, has been bitterly fought by two conservation groups: Friends of the East Fork and Fish First. The groups claimed that previous gravel mining at the site between Battle Ground and La Center has done enormous damage to the river, and that additional mining would further degrade it.
But county hearings examiner Daniel Kearns, in a long-awaited decision released Thursday, ruled that the project could proceed if the Kelso-based gravel-mining company meets conditions that include reclamation measures and groundwater monitoring.
"We are very pleased with it on several counts," said Storedahl attorney John Dentler. "One, the examiner has approved the application. But more important, in a more detailed fashion, he has described the factual background and why he believes the applications and the project meet the issuance criteria for each and every permit application."
The ruling, however, most likely will be appealed to Clark County commissioners.
"If the county allows it to go ahead, it will demonstrate a tremendous hypocrisy by county administrators who have imposed very strict regulations on other property owners' use of riparian property," said Jim Malinowski, a Fish First board member. "The gravel mining on the East Fork has done tremendous damage to that river, and to allow it to continue when you are imposing restrictions on small land owners of the county — there is absolutely no equity in that."
Opponents claim gravel mining could degrade water quality and affect fish species and their habitat. They also fear floods could send the river into gravel pits, introducing silt into the river and harming fish habitat.
Kearns said evidence showed the 1996 floods harmed fish. However, despite the river entering pits at an old site near the Daybreak mine, the damage to fish was likely the result of the larger flood and not necessarily from gravel-pit flooding.
Kearns also said Storedahl's proposals to partially fill, revegetate and stabilize existing ponds at the Daybreak mine could actually relieve the problems.
Storedahl had already agreed to most of the conditions for approval. But the examiner found that Storedahl's plans to wash instead of dry-process gravel could affect water quality, so he required dry-processing until a closed water-recycling system is implemented.
"It may be much more difficult for us," Dentler said of the requirement.
The examiner also considered how the operation would affect surrounding areas, which are zoned for agriculture and rural residences. Kearns determined the mine would not result in "excessive noise, dust, blasting vibrations, etc., on any surrounding residential development," particularly if the operation is screened and uses conveyor systems for the gravel rather than trucks.
Other conditions include a plan to minimize tracking of mud and dust on nearby roadways, completion of a reclamation plan and a groundwater monitoring program.
Also, it requires that Storedahl implement a menu of 18 conservation measures, which the company has estimated would cost about $11 million. Among other items, they include reforestation of unmined areas, planting of forested wetlands and improvement of the Dean Creek tributary.
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