County begins hearing on Yacolt mine expansion


The proposed expansion of the Yacolt Mountain gravel mine is now under consideration with nearby residents raising concerns over the impacts largely focused on the current operations they say have affected their quality of life.

During a nearly five-hour hearing on April 28, an independent land use hearings examiner for the county, Daniel Kearns, heard testimony from individuals representing the interests of mine operator J.L. Storedahl and Sons, as well as opponents to the proposed expansion. The mining company is pursuing a conditional use permit and site plan approval to expand its operations from its roughly 135-acre site to an additional 107 acres the company owns to the south of the mine. The company plans to eventually mine the area once the current quarry runs out.

The application generated a large amount of feedback. There were more than 125 separate written exhibits and the initial hearing went on for long enough that Kearns decided to extend the process until May 12. 

If the permit is approved, Storedahl will be able to mine but not process on the expansion site, said Clark County planner Richard Daviau, who presented a staff report that recommended the approval of the permit with conditions. Processing would be restricted to the existing operational area.

Bo Storedahl, of J.L. Storedahl and Sons, said the family business has operated in Clark County for more than 30 years. He said the expansion area was purchased by the company so it wouldn’t be developed by someone else in the future and as a place to store overburden from the existing mining operations.

Storedahl said exploratory drilling on the additional property showed the rock formation at the existing operation extended to those parcels, at which time the company added mining to its application.

Storedahl said the application would keep the restrictions on the number of truck trips, hours of operations and other items currently in place.

“This is simply more room for the existing operations to continue at a practical level and increase the life of the quarry,” he said.

Kearns noted a covenant as part of a 2018 expansion of the surface mining overlay which allowed the permit to move forward prohibits mining operations on the site for 10 years.

Storedahl said the company only plans on mining the expansion area when the existing pit is exhausted. He anticipated extraction would happen well after the 10 years, though that would be determined by market factors and the volume of usable rock in the existing pit.

In support of the application, representatives of geology, and environmental and traffic firms testified on behalf of Storedahl. Those in opposition raised numerous concerns which were mostly based on the current mining operation. Those concerns include water impacts both on nearby streams and on wells, sound and air pollution, uncovered gravel loads, and truck traffic.

Residents also raised concerns about the enforcement of current operations, which are a requirement for the mine to operate.  

Daviau said the Washington state Department of Ecology recently did a site visit and found no violations. He said Clark County Code Enforcement went to nearby resident Charlie Chrisafulli’s property earlier in April to conduct sound readings which were at acceptable levels.

During opposition testimony, Chrisafulli said he has filed noise complaints on a weekly basis for about three years. He said Storedahl also visited his property and remarked on the audible sound from the operation. Upon moving 500 feet to the bottom of a slope, “there was no sound,” Crisafulli said.

“The point is it’s very complex the way that sound is propagated from the quarry across the landscape,” Crisafulli said. 

East Fork Community Coalition President Dick Leeuwenburg said the statement that Ecology found no violations is “highly misleading.”

“They would be the first to tell you that they have nothing to do with land use issues,” Leeuwenburg said.

Maura Fahey, an attorney representing the East Fork Community Coalition, said the permit application fails to satisfy requirements and there isn’t enough evidence to support many of the findings by county staff. Fahey asked the hearings examiner to at the minimum require further analysis and impose additional conditions of approval. 

“However, given the extent of the inadequacies with the application,” the coalition requested Kearns deny the application altogether, Fahey said.

Kearns said code enforcement, or lack thereof, isn’t relevant to the application for a new permit. 

“I’m tasked with fashioning conditions. (For) the current mining operation not complying with the conditions, I can only take that into account in terms of translating that into new conditions,” Kearns said.

Kearns suggested that those in opposition focus on the permit at hand in order to prevent the kinds of impacts they have seen.

“I hate to push the burden onto the opponents to craft conditions but if you don’t do it, I mean I will, and apparently someone did it back with the initial permit and guess what? The conditions aren’t that workable,” Kearns said.

During the May 12 continuance, project proponents will present a rebuttal to issues raised by opponents. Upon conclusion of the hearing, Kearns will issue a decision.