Glacier says it learned from past problems
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:32 PM
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
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
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.
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
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 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
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."