Opinion

Double tragedies confirm safety fears

At 7 a.m. May 29, a woman driving west on State Route 202 (Redmond-Fall City Road) collided with an asphalt truck. She was extricated by fireman and airlifted to Harborview in critical condition. Ninety minutes later a King County dump truck backed over and killed a woman working for the county on Lake Dorothy Road, just where it splits off from Middlefork Road.

What makes these accidents so frightening is that neither involved crazed teenaged drivers, bad weather, drugs or alcohol, recklessness or neglected seat belts. Both truck drivers were experienced professionals operating well-maintained equipment and going about their routine business. In other words, both events were true accidents occurring despite all reasonable precautions.

The proposed mining plan for Grouse Ridge will feature upwards of 1,000 daily gravel truck trips through Exit 34 and the Trucktown area. Unlike the relatively maneuverable dump trucks involved in these gruesome mishaps, most of these will be combination machines 75 feet in length. Such vehicles are dangerous even when properly maintained and driven. We remember the properly maintained, properly driven Cadman combination truck that came apart in Monroe on the morning of September 7, 2001 - its unconnected trailer embedded itself in a Toyota carrying kids en route to school. (Miraculously no serious injuries.)

Few of the behemoths serving the proposed mine will be under the management of Cadman; most will be operated by independents competing in an intensely price-sensitive environment. To a child they will seem big, noisy, fascinating and confusing. They will be dangerous as hell.

The day before these accidents, our school district learned that the final absentee vote tally confirmed the passing of its bond issue, so the first of the two new schools to be built at the corner of Middlefork and Southeast 140th will proceed. When school starts in September, 2007, some 600 middle schoolers will find their way to their fine new school just 440 yards from the proposed lower site hosting this almost unimaginable parade of truck traffic. Kids living south of I-90 on Edgewick will somehow have to get under the freeway and past the busy lower-site truck entrance and exit - they have no alternative. Others will arrive from Middlefork Road, and many more up Southeast 140th.

Over the course of decades, hundreds of thousands - even millions - of school kids and parents and gravel trucks will confront one another along these roads. The events of yesterday confirm that the relentless arithmetic of statistical probability should alarm and outrage every parent in the Upper Valley.

Before criticizing the school board for buying a parcel so close to a mine, parents should know this mine was planned in secret. Cadman and Weyerhaeuser knew about the new schools, but the school board didn't know about the mine.

And when these powerful corporations secretly obtained the endorsements of our county executive and our state lands commissioner, and the unanimous approval of influential directors of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, they never told them that two schools would be built near the lower site! Even the executive director of the Greenway wasn't told. It was all done behind closed doors and trumpeted as a great victory; preserving the I-90 corridor rather than getting a permit for a gravel mine.

Knowing these facts at last, how can any corporate officer or director or manager, county or state official, or Greenway director sleep? How can they look one another in the eye? How can they look at any kid, including their own, without reflecting on the probabilities? It's only a question of whose kids and on what dates and under what circumstances the inevitable occurs.

Our region needs gravel, but surely that need can be met at Exit 38, which was built for this purpose, without sentencing unspecified families to statistically certain tragedy.

We must depend upon ourselves to keep our own kids safe. Please help by supporting our efforts to stop the lower site of the proposed mine. Send contributions to: Grouse Ridge Legal Fund, P.O. Box 2635, North Bend, WA 98045.

Ken Hall

North Bend

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