Nothing limits gravel mining

I am writing in response to Maryanne Tagney Jones' defense of Mountains to Sound Greenway's support of the proposed North Bend gravel mine ("Future preservation justifies mining," March 14). Amidst the letter's rhetoric there are, lamentably, few facts. There have been exchanges of letters and a few face-to-face meetings between MTS and local residents, but there certainly haven't been any "negotiations." MTS, like Cadman and Weyerhaeuser, has been unwilling to compromise on any of the positions taken in the initial memorandum of understanding (MOU) of April 1998. Before any environmental studies were undertaken, MTS bound itself to back the project even to the extent of offering legal support.

MTS is by no stretch of the imagination "a group of local people trying to put together a vision that benefits everyone who lives along I-90." Most MTS executives and board members live well west of North Bend, and some are employees of Weyerhaeuser and/or county officials. No local residents were consulted before MTS agreed to support the mine. MTS is trying to put together its vision of what the I-90 corridor should look like, with emphasis on cosmetic rather than substantive impacts. The 1998 MOU discussed in some detail the importance of protecting "views" from I-90, but the document is virtually mute on the effects on water, air and wildlife. The signees to the MOU also ignored the issue of the school already planned for the land adjacent to the lower site.

The notion that 25 years of "inconvenience" is an acceptable trade-off to get a "forest park ... that will be forever" flies in the face of the facts. There is nothing in the MOU or EIS documents that limits mining on the site to 25 years. One of the major flaws in these agreements is that the question of when mining is completed and the land turns magically into a park is wholly undefined. The operator retains the right to mine the site as long as it sees fit; and it retains rights to use roads through the reclaimed site to adjacent lands in perpetuity (and that is forever). The reality is that large-scale gravel mines tend to operate at different levels of intensity for many, many decades. Once under way, it's likely that gravel mining in North Bend would still be happening when our great-grandchildren celebrate the turn of the next century in 2100.

Finally, there's the matter of reclamation. Cadman has stated that it intends to fill the mine pit with construction debris and use biosolids to enhance revegetation. The reclaimed site is likely to be as much an environmental hazard as the mining operation itself. King County may well inherit property that looks more like a hazardous waste dump than a "forest park."

MTS, its board and supporters need to admit they dropped the ball on this one. They signed up to support a project that threatens the well-being and lifestyle of thousands of residents. Worse yet, the North Bend mine could reduce and potentially contaminate the water supply for large portions of King County. If MTS really has a long-term vision for the environment along the I-90 corridor, it will go back to Weyerhaeuser, Cadman and King County and seek a revised plan that gets most of the gravel at much less risk.

David Billick

North Bend

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