Glacier says it learned from past problems

SNOQUALMIE _ Glacier Northwest has promised residents here

that its proposal to blast for hard rock at its Snoqualmie gravel pit would

be practically without noise, dust and damage to any underlying aquifers.

Company officials say that with current technology, blasting will

provide a safe way to gain access to the rock, which could extend the life

of the gravel pit for 50 years.

But in the past two decades, Glacier Northwest has had its share

of problems. Company officials have pleaded guilty to pollution

violations, and blasts at a Glacier quarry have gone awry.

Ron Summers, general manager for Glacier's Washington

Aggregates Division, said the company has improved its environmental practices

by establishing new procedures and safeguards, contracting with an

expert blasting company and hiring three environmental managers to test

and check on gravel operations and keep up on current environmental laws.

"(They are there) for us to police ourselves and understand the

ever-changing rules and stay ahead of the curve," Summers said. "Their job

is to do inspections, take care of environmental matters, (including)

air, water (and) noise. They do not report to the operational side at all."

He added that in addition to the environmental experts, federal,

state and local agencies inspect Glacier's eight Washington and Oregon

aggregate operations.

However, some residents feel that Glacier's past mistakes should give

the county reason to mandate an environmental impact statement for the

proposed addition of hard-rock blasting at the Snoqualmie gravel pit.

"What bothers me is that with no environmental impact statement,

I worry that this company, with its track record, will be operating over

two aquifers, and I'm not comfortable with very little controls in place,"

said Diane Brace. She lives near the gravel pit and belongs to a new

neighborhood group called "Friends of the

Tokul Creek Delta and Olympia Creek Aquifers."

`A product we all need'

Glacier Northwest owns the Snoqualmie Sand and Gravel

operation and has recently applied for a county permit to blast an additional

25 million tons of hard rock from the site, add four daily operation hours

and extend the project's life to at least 2050.

"It's a permitted site, has the correct zoning, is listed in the

(King County Comprehensive Plan) and it's a product we all need and use,"

Summers said. "If I were a neighbor (of Snoqualmie Sand and Gravel), I'd

just as soon have a company with the knowledge and expertise to

operate there."

Currently, Glacier is required to keep a strict record of its mining

activities and must follow national guidelines with all of their

operations, explained Ken Johnston, Snoqualmie plant superintendent.

Johnston said that if blasting were permitted, neighbors would have

nothing to worry about with the current controls in place.

Past problems

Environmental incidents and accidents involving Lone Star

Northwest — which later changed its name to Glacier Northwest — include the

unauthorized dumping of pollutants into Lake Union, as well as a lagoon

behind a shopping center in Oregon City, Ore. Also, a blast explosion sent

rock into property neighboring Glacier's Mats Mats quarry at Port

Ludlow, Wash.

The Lake Union incident occurred in 1987, when it was discovered

that Pioneer Construction Materials had been discharging pollutants into

the water without a permit. Pioneer later became a part of Lone Star

Industries Inc., which in turn became Lone Star Northwest, which then changed

its name to Glacier Northwest.

Summers, who worked for Pioneer at the time, said the company

pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act. He, and current

Glacier President James Repman, were individually fined, as well.

Summers said the mistake was made at a time when

environmental rules were changing rapidly, but he added that the company now has

a handle on — and tries to keep ahead of — new environmental laws.

In another incident, Glacier ended up paying $250,000 in fines and

restitution for the contamination of a lagoon on the Clackamas River in

Oregon City. The company also pleaded guilty to "discharging

contaminated industrial wastewater into navigable waters between 1994 and 1996,"

according to an article in the (Portland) Oregonian dated May 11, 1999.

Summers said the company turned itself in to state authorities after

conducting its own investigation into the incident, which resulted in the

firing of the plant supervisor.

"We did turn ourselves in when we found out about it," he said. "The

superintendent was fired, and we are cooperating with the

(Environmental Protection Agencies) with

practices, and have additional safeguards in place, so that a superintendent

could not do this again."

The Oregonian article reported that under an environmental

compliance plan approved by a U.S. District Court judge, Lone Star Northwest

"made improvements to its plant designed to eliminate any future illegal


The most recent incident occurred at Glacier's Mats Mats quarry

located at Port Ludlow.

According to a State of Washington Department of Labor and

Industries document, on March 1, 1999, rocks approximately 1 to 1 1/2

inches in diameter were blasted out of the quarry, landing in a channel and

into a neighborhood across from the channel. After state investigators

researched the incident, they fined Glacier $4,200. The fine was for two

violations, the document stated, adding, "No person shall store, handle or

transport explosives or blasting agents when such storage, handling or

transportation constitutes an undue hazard to life." The Department of Labor

and Industries document also said employees had "failed to cover shot with

a blasting mat to prevent fragments from being thrown."

Johnston, who worked at the Mats Mats quarry at the time of the

incident, said he was not at the facility the day of the faulty blast.

"I take the blame because I'm the superintendent," he said.

Johnston explained he initiated the state investigation and was very

involved in rewriting blasting policies.

"What happened at Mats Mats was a specific series of events. We've

put safeguards in procedures that will not allow that to happen," he said.

Those safeguards include the type and positioning of blasting and the

use of blasting mats to hold down rock, preventing it from escaping the area.

"Hindsight is 20-20. Foresight is what you learn from the past, and

if you don't learn from history, it will repeat itself," he said. "The

mistake that happened at Mats Mats cannot take place because of the changes

in policy."

In addition, Department of Labor and Industries blasting expert

Morris Payne, has been quoted in several newspaper articles as stating that

he believes Glacier is taking the necessary precautions to prevent future


Neighbors' concerns

Port Ludlow resident Rae Belkin said there are other problems

surrounding the blasting at the Mats Mats quarry.

She stated that although the blasting incident has not been

repeated, residents are still concerned about dust, noise and vibration.

"The vibration — it's pretty darn bad, she said. "These people have

their pictures come off the walls."


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