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Grouse Ridge mining operation clears hurdle

NORTH BEND - Opponents of a gravel mine near Exit 34 will spend the upcoming weeks deciding whether to appeal a judge's dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the permits issued to the project's operators.

The decision is the latest volley in a more than five-year battle between grass-roots organization The Cascade Gateway Foundation, and the project's developer, international mining corporation Cadman Inc.

Earlier this month King County Superior Court Judge Douglas McBroom ruled against the foundation and a group of neighbors who claimed King County erred when it issued Cadman a permit to begin work.

"This is probably the most thoroughly studied gravel operation in state history and we're pleased that the review has withstood careful scrutiny by the court and Pollution Control Hearings Board," said Barry Meade, Cadman's vice president and general manager. "We think the community will be satisfied when they see the level of environmental commitment that Cadman brings to this project ... We keep our promises and we will make positive contributions to the community."

The opponents have 30 days from the judge's filing of the official ruling to appeal.

Jeff Martine, president of The Cascade Gateway Foundation, said opponents must weigh the options carefully because if the group appeals and loses, it could potentially cost between $50,000 and $100,000.

Under state law if such a land-use appeal is lost the prevailing party receives "reasonable attorney's fees and costs."

Martine said the Cascade Gateway Foundation already has spent about $150,000 on legal fees.

Cadman has proposed a 25-year mining operation on land leased from Weyerhaeuser Co. located between Interstate 90 exits 34 and 38. The plan calls for rocks to eventually be transported from a location on Grouse Ridge to a lower site for processing near TravelCenters of America Seattle East. Product would arrive to the site via a mile-long conveyor belt. In July Cadman began operating the lower site.

Although the recent decision was a setback, Martine said, the hearings did bring about a positive change of course in the discussions regarding whether the operation was one site or two.

Among the foundation's objections were that King County erred when it issued just one permit for the operation when it was, in fact, on two separate sites, Martine said. The latest hearing, he added, established that the operation was two sites, both requiring its own permit.

The lower site will yield only a small portion of sand and gravel, Martine said, while the real gains would come from the 260-acre upper site. When Cadman applies for the permit, the foundation and neighbors will be on hand.

Under the stipulations of the latest hearings, McBroom will oversee the permitting process for the upper site.

Opponents are concerned that the expected 900 daily truck trips within two proposed Snoqualmie Valley School District schools located about 450 yards from the lower site will put local students in danger.

Robin Hansen, the project's manager, said the timeline in which Cadman will apply for the permit for the upper site depends on market demand. The lower site has between three to eight years of sand and gravel to be harvested from the site, she added. Currently, product harvested from the lower site is processed in Issaquah.

"We're just happy the superior court agreed with us," said Hansen.

Martine's group has maintained that it is not opposed to the mining of the upper site, it is the lower portion of the operation that is of concern. The group has urged Cadman to scrap the lower site and utilize Exit 38 to gain entrance to the upper portion.

No matter what the decision regarding a potential appeal, Martine said the group will continue their fight.

"They were hoping we'd all fall back into our sofas ... and they get a permit," said Martine. "We have to stay aware every day and face frequent frustration and setbacks to stay in there and have a chance to win."

Travis Peterson can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at travis.peterson@valleyrecord.com.

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