A decision on whether a key permit will be approved for the expansion of the Yacolt Mountain Mine will likely take place in July, as Clark County staff made proposed adjustments to requirements which would involve regular public review of operations.
The county hosted the continuation of a land use hearing on May 12 focused on the mine’s application for a conditional use permit and site plan approval that would 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 hearing process officially began on April 28 when independent land use hearings examiner Daniel Kearns heard testimony from Clark County staff, individuals representing the permit applicant, J.L. Storedahl and Sons, and members of the public who were against the expansion. After a nearly five hour meeting in April, Kearns continued the hearing until May 12, where he heard a rebuttal from applicant associates on concerns from the public. The May meeting also tweaked a recommendation from county staff based on previous testimony.
So far the hearing has amassed more than 175 separate exhibits of written testimony. At the start of the hearing, Kearns noted he plans to keep the record open for weeks to allow for a number of phases of comment from interested parties, putting a tentative decision on whether to approve or deny the permit sometime in July.
Among testimony at the hearing, Clark County planner Richard Daviau went over adjustments made to the mine’s initial permit from 20 years ago. In a number of cases, the proposed conditions held true to what was already approved, like limitations on truck trips, speed limits on mine roads and a requirement to seed vegetation on moved and stored overburden soil.
Daviau said the county is devising ways to enforce the number of truck trips, which among the options, includes an analysis of scale tickets for trucks. Use of game cameras to track trucks is another option he mentioned.
Of the adjustments, Daviau said a requirement to channel stormwater isn’t applicable anymore as the mine is connected to public utilities and so it’s beholden to stormwater requirements at that level. He also said a requirement for dust mitigation from internal roads isn’t applicable since those roads are now paved.
Another change requires a detailed blasting plan to be submitted to the county fire marshal’s office. The new permit would state the operation has to comply with all state and federal requirements from responsible agencies regarding blasting.
The new conditions would also require a pre-blast structural survey to be conducted by an independent professional and paid for by the mine operator.
Daviau said another new condition is the applicant will have to pay for a “qualified noise consultant” to create a noise monitoring plan approved by the county. Annual reports will be submitted to the county.
He said that requirement is more stringent than the original conditional use permit, which was increased in frequency from two years to an annual basis.
Daviau said the conditions proposal will put into place a compliance review for mine operations every three years which would include a public notice and comment period. To date, he said there has been very limited public participation in the periodic review of compliance.
On existing terms for operation, Daviau said Storedahl has operated on holidays in violation of their permitting on more than one occasion, incurring a $1,000 fine for each instance which have been paid, he said. Previously, residents raised concerns the mine operated outside of its allowed schedule, which includes the holidays laid out in its permitting.
Daviau noted the county could issue a stop work order if violations on any of the conditions prove excessive.
“I have a feeling this is not going to happen moving forward, but if it does, we have the tools,” Daviau said.
Kearns said the county could consider a condition with a specific trigger for when it could take such enforcement actions.
“I don’t think the county has ever issued a stop work order for violations,” Kearns said. “It might be worthwhile for everybody’s information for something like that (to be) articulated as a condition.”
Kearns noted the nature of the land use process assumed that mining operations could occur, but with the conditions placed into the permitting.
“This is a surface mine in a surface mining zone,” Kearns said.
He said what is under consideration would never completely eliminate what the neighbors experience.
“This operation can be detectable. You can hear it, you can see it, you can smell it,” Kearns said. “The point of the criteria is not to reduce it to a point of undetectability, but it can’t have significant detrimental impacts to neighbors.”
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