Gravel company wants to blast
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:39 PM
SNOQUALMIE Sand, gravel and concrete supplier Glacier
Northwest recently filed an application to mine hard rock, expand hours and
extend operations until 2050 for its Snoqualmie Sand and Gravel location.
Neighbors of the gravel pit have expressed concern over
possible noise, vibrations, water and housing impacts associated with the
expansion. But Glacier representatives said they have studied plans and
believe the proposed changes will have no significantly adverse impacts on
the surrounding area, if mitigational efforts are taken.
The gravel pit is located approximately one mile north of the city
of Snoqualmie, near the Weyerhaeuser mill. The land is owned
by Weyerhaeuser and leased to Glacier Northwest.
The proposal would revise the pit's current grading permit to allow
blasting and extraction of approximately 25 million tons of rock found
underneath the site. The proposal would turn the pit into a quarry operation and
essentially double production of rock materials.
Homeowners located within one-half mile from the approximately
270-acre pit are worried that several dynamite blasts per week would be
"I don't believe Glacier has adequately addressed impacts to
the community," said Tim Welborn, who lives within 500 feet of the pit.
The Welborn family and other residents gathered for a meeting to
discuss possible effects from the mining expansion. In addition to noise
and dust, they said nearby water sources could be affected as well as their
When the Welborns bought their home, they knew a gravel
operation was next door. But they didn't count on it being expanded.
"We look at our homes as an investment, and we want to hand
them down to our kids," Tim Welborn said. "And what will your kids think
of property that's been impacted by a pit?"
The pit originally took up 60 acres and has been used for several
years by Weyerhaeuser and other gravel companies. It was expanded in
1995 when 212 adjoining acres were rezoned to mineral classification.
That action, along with the current grading permit, requires
environmental review before other types of mining are allowed. As a result,
Glacier prepared an environmental checklist for the proposed permit revision.
Glacier representative Ron Summers said his company did many
studies before submitting the application and explained that its' proposal
calls for mining on land already zoned for that purpose.
"I think it's important to remember to look at the fact that we've
been operating up here for many years and we've had no complaints as far as
I know, and we feel we're an important part of the Valley," he said. "As an
average, each person uses 12 tons of sand and gravel and six tons of hard
rock per year for schools, highways, hospitals, homes, factories and
According to Glacier's checklist, hard-rock mining would take up
60 acres within the site and would not expand the operation's boundaries.
It also reports that if properly mitigated, proposed operations will not have
significant adverse impacts on the surrounding area.
Neighbors don't believe this claim.
"It's a significant expansion and don't let anyone tell you it's not,"
Tim Welborn said, explaining that he and other homeowners would like to
see further studies done. "If we don't get all of these potential
environmental problems addressed adequately, we will all be in trouble."
Noise from blasting and the accompanying warning siren is one
of the residents' biggest concerns.
Even though much of the noise would be regulated by King
County, neighbors allege that the pit already fails to comply with noise
standards and said they are the ones who monitor the discrepancy.
"It's an on- going burden," Pam Welborn-Whittington explained.
"It's set up where we have to be King County's watchdog."
Noise expert Curt Horner, senior environmental specialist for the
Department of Health, said if done properly, the blasts will not be heard,
but slight vibrations could be felt.
"Cars create more vibration (than a blast)," he said.
Horner is studying Glacier's application and has not yet made any
However, he said he would be interested in finding out how much
additional machinery would be needed for the proposed upgrade.
"The handling of the material after a (blast) would probably have
more impact than the (blast) itself," he added.
In addition to blasting, four daily operating hours would be added.
Currently, the operation runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Glacier plans on
extending it from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. This time period does not include
maintenance that is allowed to occur after-hours.
Neighbors said this is unreasonable and invades the only quiet time
they had in the evening and early morning.
The third component of the application is to extend the project's
life until 2050, an option local residents said is inappropriate and would
effect the Valley area far too long. Glacier contends it will take that many
years to mine the amount of rock located at the site and that the Valley and
county will always need construction materials.
As the debate goes on over if, how or to what extent possible
impacts could be, some county officials have said there is no doubt that
hard-rock mining will impact the area surrounding it.
"There is impact," said Paul Meyer, site development specialist
for the Department of Development and Environmental Services, the
agency that reviews environmental documents for permits and developments.
He added that whether the impacts can be mitigated through the
grading permit's conditions or has to go through the Environmental
Impact Study (EIS) process has yet to be determined.
The proposal's official comment period ended on Monday and
county officials will study both the document and residents' letters to determine
the plan's outcome.
The three options would be to issue the mining permit without
additional study, approve the application with mitigational measures or to
have Glacier go through the EIS process, which involves further studies and
a public hearing process. A county decision on the matter could take a