Excavation site would be more than 50 acres
Okanogan County is reviewing an application for a quarry on private property on the south side of Highway 20 about 3.5 miles south and east of Twisp, heading toward Loup Loup Pass.
The applicants propose to excavate rock, decomposed shale and topsoil from six sites on the 600-acre parcel, which is between Highway 20 and Finley Canyon Road. According to the application, excavation at the High Mountain Quarry would create holes from 5 to 12 feet deep. The rock, mostly granite, is already fractured and varies in size from 8 inches to several feet.
The application was submitted to Okanogan County Planning in February by Paul Christen on behalf of property owner Corky Barker. Barker has a house on the property, just west of the main excavation site. Rock that would be quarried is located through the ranch, with the largest area close to Barker’s home. The applicant anticipates that the main excavation site would be more than 50 acres in size.
The application describes the excavation and reclamation as follows: “This would all depend on what is beneath the surface and can it be physically removed without much time and expense. Time will tell. The plan would be to not create such a large hole because it would have a negative effect on adjacent home and the ranch. It would probably be sloped and filled as the rock was removed.”
Quarry rock and gravel topsoil would be collected and separated by excavators and bulldozers. Rock would be stockpiled in various locations on the property where it would not be visible to neighbors, according to the application.
In addition to quarrying rock and gravel, Barker plans to remove topsoil from the lower field, which would then be reseeded. Most vegetation on the property burned in the last four years in wildland fires, according to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist submitted by Christen.
The proponents anticipate between one and 10 trips a day along Highway 20. Traffic and noise from excavators and other heavy equipment would be from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. There would be one to three workers.
The quarry would operate from mid-March to the beginning of December, with most work done in the spring and early summer to avoid problems with dust during hot, dry weather, according to the application.
The nearest body of water is Frazer Creek, which mainly follows the highway.
In addition to the heavy equipment, the operators would install a battery- and solar-powered 70-by-10-foot truck scale and a 5-by-5-foot building to house the scale reader.
The proponents don’t anticipate the need for a rock crusher to be permanently installed at the site, but one might be contracted to crush rock “for a week or so,” according to the application.
The proponents say they don’t anticipate great demand for the rock and expect quarrying to end once they have adequate inventory.
They predict that primary demand would come from people and government agencies with flood-damaged property and roads. In the past they have sold rock to the Washington State Department of Transportation for emergency repairs, the applicant said.
In the application, Christen included a 2015 letter from Okanogan County Engineer Josh Thomson recommending a change to the county’s zoning code to allow new gravel pits in the Methow Review District through conditional-use permits (CUPs) because of the cost of hauling gravel from distant quarries. The letter was submitted to the county Planning Department as they were updating the zoning code and was not connected with any particular project or proposal.
New zoning code
In the old zoning code, in the Methow Review District — depending on the zone — gravel pits were either prohibited or required a conditional-use permit. The new code, adopted in 2016, essentially preserves those restrictions. The chart that lists permissible activities says “except for existing/permitted sites” for gravel pits in rural residential and low-density residential areas. The Barker property is in a low-density area.
It’s not clear whether that means gravel pits are conditional or prohibited in that zone, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston, who said the matter may need to be clarified.
Huston issued a mitigated determination of environmental significance for High Mountain Quarry because review of the proposal “indicates that there may be potential for significant adverse environmental impacts.”
Among the mitigations Huston proposed are ceasing work if endangered sharp-tailed grouse are nesting in the area, shielding all lighting and keeping rock piles under 50 feet in height, prohibiting work within 200 feet of Frazer Creek, and implementing a plan to control noxious weeds.
The county is currently seeking input as part of the environmental review of High Mountain Quarry. Comments on the potential environmental impact must be submitted by March 21 to have standing to appeal any decision under SEPA.
Huston will use comments on the environmental impact to make a final SEPA determination, which will be submitted to the county’s hearing examiner along with all the application materials and comments. The hearing examiner will review the conditional-use permit application and make the final decision on the CUP.
No date has been set yet for the hearing examiner’s public hearing on the CUP. People can comment on the overall project and CUP until that hearing.
For more information or to comment, contact planner Pam Wyllson at (509) 422 – 7122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.