Now known as the Mountain Loop Conservancy

By Bruce Barnbaum

In 1992 several people were apprised of a plan to permit a gigantic gravel pit and quarry between the Mountain Loop Highway (MLH) and the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River to Associated Sand and Gravel Co. of Everett, on land owned by Hancock Timber Resources Group, a division of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company. (AS&G subsequently became know as CSR, then as Rinker Materials). Several people, including my wife, Sonia Thompson, Nancy Dean, Steve Dean (her husband) and myself, organized a series of meetings to try to coalesce opposition against this project. Other people from far-flung locations—well into Seattle—were attracted to the fight, including Roger Wynn, an attorney at Preston Gates and Ellis (but now with the City of Seattle), and his wife Esther Bartfeld. Esther, who subsequently went to law school and became a lawyer, strongly urged us to find an attorney, suggesting Jeff Eustis of Seattle, an environmental attorney of 19 years (at that time).

Steve Dean, also a project leader for VOW (Volunteers for Outdoor Washington) was heavily involved in designed, building and clearing trails, primarily those within the watershed of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River. Steve became a main force in the creation of the Robe Gorge County Park.

Thus, with forays into a few other issues, SCA was founded on two major issues: fighting the AS&G gravel pit and quarry, and creating the Robe Gorge County Park (and building trails into that park). For the latter purpose, Steve Dean organized innumerable trail crew days to map, create and maintain trails that are now used regularly by dozens daily almost throughout the year.

The enormity of the AS&G project required an EIS dealing with a wide range of issues, including potential damage to the adjacent river, wetland damage on site, traffic on the MLH and other access roads, noise (primarily at the site and truck noise past the schools in town), ability to reforest the area after mining ceased, drainage during the mining period, road damage from the heavy gravel trucks, etc. In 1994 AS&G issued its Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS), which drew responses from dozens of individuals, agencies, and organizations. SCA filed a 120 page response, much of it written and compiled by myself.

In 1995, AS&G issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement, with responses to the comments from the DEIS. A lengthy hearing in front of Hearing Examiner, John Galt, was then set. Delays due to repeated interference and constant changes of rules for the hearing by the County Council prevented the hearing from starting for more than 2 months. (It was clear that the County Council did not want a fair hearing, and were tying themselves in knots to figure out ways to prevent a fair hearing. John Galt, to his credit, stood firm in the face of numerous council assaults on him and his office, an act of major courage, for the Council could have fired him at their whim.)

A two-week hearing took place in October, 1995, with a decision handed down several weeks later that the EIS was inadequate on 10 grounds. This was an unprecedented loss, especially for a document that required years to produce and was ultimately 4 volumes in length, with each volume about 2 inches thick. The can be no permit issued for a project with an inadequate EIS.

At that point the County Council went into even more frantic and forceful mode to prevent any further review of the Supplemental EIS. Within a year they had passed a law making the SEIS automatically adequate, leaving SCA to fight the permitting of the project simply on the merits of the law, with no recourse to the question of adequacy of the EIS.

SCA opposition to the project already was having a major impact on the project size, however, as the footprint of the gravel mining operation was cut nearly in half, and the extent of hard rock mining was cut from the claimed 45 million tons down to 18 million tons of bedrock (though, as SCA uncovered in the EIS hearings, the amount of bedrock to be quarried was "effectively infinite" to use AS&G's own words.) The number of gravel trucks to and from the site was pulled back substantially from the initial numbers. Numerous other changes were also offered in the SEIS, all downsizing from the initial project projections.

Jeff Eustis focused on the issue of residences within close proximity of the project site, basing his argument on the 1988 (?) law passed by the County Council that no mineral resource operation could be commenced in close proximity to an area of substantial residential development. In the hearing on the permitting of the project in 1998 Hearing Examiner Gault accepted the argument, denying the permit on the grounds that there was, indeed, "substantial residential development" within close proximity to the project site.

AS&G (by then, CSR) appealed this decision to the County Council, the very council that had so repeatedly intervened into the actions of the Hearing Examiner's office on behalf of CSR. In 1999, the County Council reversed the Hearing Examiner's decision, saying that residential development was not substantial, and granted CSR the permit.

It should be noted that of the (roughly) 100 gravel sites now recognized by the county for future gravel extractions, none had as much residential development nearby as did the MLH site near Granite Falls. Thus, if the 1988 law didn't apply to the Granite Falls site, it applied nowhere else, either. In other words, the county was then in the awkward position of having a law that applied nowhere! For this reason, I claim that the reversal of Hearing Examiner Gault's ruling was illegal.

(During that period of time, another gravel mining proposal came into being, at the top of Sand Hill, a proposal known as the Green Mountain Mine. Knowing that SCA had insufficient funding to fight both gravel mining projects, and further recognizing that members would be drawn thin from dealing with two gravel fights at once, I, personally fought this project myself, using SCA newsletters and mailers to make it appear that this, too, was an SCA project. With brief legal help from Jeff Eustis in a 1996 hearing, but with me acting as "lead attorney" in the name of SCA, I was able to have the EIS declared inadequate on 2 grounds for this much smaller project. Subsequently, when the County Council removed any review of the supplemental EIS from the table, I realized that that was the only means of effectively fighting the Green Mountain project, so I quickly contacted the proponent, saying that SCA would drop all further objection to the mine if it would agree to certain conditions with SCA, including an 80' setback from the MLH—rather than the planned 40' setback—and other mining conditions, plus $10,000 to SCA. These conditions were quickly agreed upon, and SCA opposition was formally dropped, though I had funded, and did all the opposition work, myself.)

Steve Dean continued organizing and leading trail work in the Robe Gorge Park, until the County took over well after the park was created. He still leads organized crews in from the other side of the park (the Lime Kiln Trail, starting at the upper end of Scotty Road, south of Granite Falls).

SCA continued largely in name only from about 2000 or 2001, with little to do with the quarries except for an occasional question to the County PDS about truck traffic, or issues concerning on-site drainage that we were largely prevented from directly monitoring.