Christy Tseu and her family moved to their Lewis River Road home near Ariel in 2007 to be in “God’s country.” Now she and many of her neighbors are worried a proposed rock quarry next door would cause noise and could threaten their water sources.
“It just doesn’t belong here,” Tseu said. “If something happens during the blasting, we’re doomed.”
After getting initial county approval, the quarry is now on hold because there is a chance that the site may contain tribal artifacts.
Chilton Stuart Families LLC wants to log and and convert 31 acres of forest off Lewis River Road for a future quarry and access road. Tseu said she and other residents near the project area are mostly worried blasting will damage or contaminate their wells or the aquifer they rely on. They also fear noise, dust and reduced property values, said Fredrick Hudgin, area resident.
Tseu, Hudgin and about a dozen other residents sent in comments opposing the project to the Cowlitz Department of Building and Planning before the public comment deadline on Dec. 12. The agency initially determined in November that the project would not adversely affect the environment. It based its decision on a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Environmental checklist submitted by a Chilton representative.
The SEPA checklist said the project would not affect surface or ground water or recreation in the area. Air quality could be affected by exhaust from trucks and logging equipment. The document does not include details about the proposed quarry’s operation.
A SEPA checklist is a far less extensive review than an environmental impact study. But the degree of analysis and survey that went into this quarry proposal was unclear. Jacob Oberlander, who filled out the checklist for Chilton, did not return calls for comment. Neither did project proponent Craig Chilton.
Building and planning officials on Dec. 13 withdrew the determination after receiving a letter from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP). The agency is recommending a professional survey of the project area because of a “high risk” of the area containing archaeological resources such as Indian artifacts.
The proposed location of the quarry is out of sight from Lewis River Road, tucked behind a hill. Allyson Brooks, state historic preservation officer, said the department’s archaeological model found the area, which includes a creek site, has a high potential to have cultural resources.
In a letter to the Building and Planning Department, the department said the proposed gravel mining above Indian George Creek could negatively affect historic sites at the creek.
The historic Lone Pine Cemetery also is adjacent to the project area, which also raises concerns, Brooks said. Old graveyards often include burial sites outside of known cemetery boundaries, she said.
On the SEPA checklist the applicant said there was no evidence of “Indian or historic use or occupation” on the project site. An “inadvertent discovery plan” would be in place to guide reaction if any artifacts are unearthed, the document said.
Discovery of graves or artifacts after quarry development starts would delay the project and drive up costs, Brooks said. Archaeological review ahead of construction is safer than discovering artifacts during the project, she said.
Any relevant information from a survey along with mitigation plans must be included in a new SEPA checklist, said Ron Melin, deputy director of Building and Planning. Any steps to avoid affecting cultural sites or artifacts would be a condition of the forest conversion permit, he said.
Chilton Stuart Families will have to complete another SEPA checklist and there will be another public comment period on the Building and Planning Department’s decision before the project can move forward.
The only other local permit the project needs is a Cowlitz County road approach permit. The proposal is exempt from a county surface mine permit because it is in a remote area and won’t be visible from a public road.
“Like it or not, they don’t need a surface mine permit from us,” Melin said. “We get that people are concerned about what happens near their properties, but if we don’t have a code it’s hard to just go out there and tell somebody you can’t do something.”