Lewis County regulators have ruled that the proponent of a Vader-area gravel mine along the Cowlitz River must conduct an environmental impact study.
The decision is a victory for nearby landowners, who last July raised objections to the project and rezoning the land from farming to “mineral resource land.” Requiring an EIS will broaden the public’s ability to comment.
“This is in a floodplain, I have pictures to show that (the subject property) has been all under water several times during my lifetime,” said Dana Freeland, who owns farmland next to the proposed mine. “During the time that the rock pit is opened up, you get some of that water in there and it’s going to send silt and pollution onto the properties down below.”
Lewis County Community Development Associate Planner Brianna Teitzel announced Tuesday that Richard Smith of Precision Paving Plus LLC must do a full Environmental Impact Statement. Previously the county had just asked for Smith to complete a state Environmental Policy Act checklist, a much less thorough level of review.
Teitzel told the Lewis County Planning Commission that the next step is the scoping process, in which the public gets to weigh in on what issues and concerns the EIS must address. A public scoping hearing will be held some time next month, he said.
“Those issues (identified in the scoping process) will be a requirement to be addressed (in the EIS),” John Kliem, a planning consultant for Lewis County, told citizens at the meeting. “So, think carefully about what you’d like to see in that EIS and keep an eye out for that meeting.”
Smith first applied to rezone the area to allow the gravel mining operation in December 2017, citing a “lack of mineral resources in the area.” He added the access to Interstate 5 is “ideal to serve the Centralia/Chehalis area.”
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According to Precision Paving Plus’ website, the company is described as “a professional site grading and asphalt paving contractor serving the Greater Vancouver/Portland Area.”
Lewis County’s parcel records show both parcels of land listed on the application are owned by Gene and Angela Watson, as part of a living trust. The Watsons signed as additional applicants with Smith.
Freeland’s worry stems from the land’s susceptibility to flooding and the impact the gravel pit would have on the surrounding area during a flood and her family farm, which she and her husband Mike have farmed “for the last 60-something years.”
“Just downstream from that is where Vader has (its) water intake,” Freeland continued. “They get their water from the Cowlitz River and then they treat it, so it could impact their water system, too.”
The subject property is across the river from L Rock Industries, Inc., a sand and gravel supplier for Lewis County. Scott Crossfield, a resident of Toledo, says the use of the land for mineral resources has negatively affected his day-to-day life.
He adds that most of the community feels the impacts of L Rock, and additional mining would make matters worse.
“Right now, the noise, it’s a nightmare,” Crossfield said. “Double it, right across the river. People have started to try and just move, because they realize, ‘I don’t know if the county is going to do anything to stop these people.’ ”
According to Kliem, the original application submitted by Smith included enough information to be accepted, but not to form a conclusion on the project’s environmental impact. “We decided more information was needed through the SEPA process,” Kliem said, explaning the decision to require a full EIS.
He had no estimate of how long it would take to complete the study, saying it will depend on Smith and just how what issues must be evaluated. “It can take a long time.”
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