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Gravel mine opponents eyeing county plan

NORTH BEND - The Cascade Gateway Foundation's more than five-year battle against a gravel mine east of North Bend has moved from the court room to a King County meeting room.

On July 27, members of the nonprofit foundation spoke at a public hearing held by the Growth Management and Unincorporated Areas Committee regarding the proposed Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) currently being mulled over by the Metropolitan King County Council.

Although the CAO has drawn harsh criticism from rural landowners in the Valley because it could severely limit their ability to develop their land, Cascade Gateway Foundation members are fighting what they say are seemingly innocuous changes that could pave the way for mining operations to decimate forested lands.

At the heart of the foundation's concerns are changes regarding clearing and grading permits. Under the proposed changes the definition of the term "site" would be changed so that any forestry-zoned parcels sharing an easement would be considered a single site. Such a change, foundation members say, would devastate forests and would likely put an end to their efforts to stop a proposed 25-year mining operation, a portion of which is currently underway east of North Bend.

Since the late 1990s, the Cascade Gateway Foundation has been working to adjust a proposed mining operation on land leased from Weyerhaeuser Co. located between Interstate 90 and exits 34 and 38. The plan calls for rocks to eventually be transported via a conveyor belt from a location on Grouse Ridge to a lower site for processing near TravelCenters of America - Seattle East. Cadman currently is removing material from the lower site.

The foundation has said that it does not oppose gravel mining in the area, but would like to see the operation use Exit 38 rather than the already busy Exit 34 for safety reasons.

Foundation members claimed that King County erred when issuing the grading permit because the operation uses two sites instead of one and should have required two permits. In September of 2003, a superior court judge said he believed the properties were not contiguous. Although no ruling was handed down on the subject, the final agreement stated that "there has been no final land-use decision authorizing development or modification of the upper and middle sites. This court retains jurisdiction over the permit and any revisions to the permit."

If the CAO were to be passed with the changes to the definition of site, such a project would be green-lighted, said opponent Carol Maller at last week's meeting.

"This would render any two forested zoned parcels sharing an easement the same as if they were contiguous for purposes of mineral processing permits," said Maller. "And processing - with its endless rock crushing and truck traffic - is the truly horrible aspect of gravel mining. Think Issaquah."

North Bend residents living near the project would not be the only victims, Maller added.

"Our county includes 825,000 acres of forest-zoned lands, and their ownership is dominated by a handful of large organizations that would have no trouble in granting one another easements," she said.

Cascade Gateway Foundation Vice President Ken Hall told committee members that such a move would hurt individual landowners personally. Individual homeowners are not the main contributor to sprawl, he said, adding that it's the large corporations who are the real culprits.

"It is this complete disregard for the individual citizen, and support for the large, special interest that has us concerned. It is now up to the committee to show they will do the right thing and strip the new definition of site from [the ordinance]."

The Metropolitan King County Council will be in recess for another week, so the committee will not meet again until later in the month.

For information, visit www.metrokc.gov.

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