Hearing examiner approves use permit
Gravel crushing could start by the end of next year above the town of Methow, now that the county’s hearing examiner has approved a permit for a gravel pit near the town of Methow.
The county can proceed with the purchase of 540 acres for the pit and apply for the necessary state mining permits. The county has a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the land for $1 million. Because it needs only 149 acres for the pit, the county hopes to sell the remaining acres for public access and wildlife habitat.
The only hitch to moving ahead with the pit is if the homeowners’ association that appealed the project decides to take its appeal to the next level.
When Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee approved the county’s conditional-use permit (CUP) on Dec. 9, he denied the appeal from 70 landowners in the Methow River Ranch Phase II Homeowners Association (HOA).
The HOA appeal asked the county to do a more thorough environmental review of the impacts of the pit and to impose more explicit conditions to control noise, dust and visual impacts. But Beardslee found that the appellants hadn’t shown that at least one member of the HOA would suffer “direct and immediate impact” from the mine — as opposed to “speculative” allegations of harm.
Beardslee said the appellants hadn’t provided evidence of impacts from traffic or noise, nor shown effects on water or endangered species. When people buy property, there’s no guarantee that their view won’t change, Beardslee wrote. There’s also no evidence that gravel mining or crushing would increase truck traffic, he said.
In his review of the CUP, Beardslee wrote that he’d considered “substantial” written comments from the public, agencies and tribes. “The principal objections to the project centered around noise, traffic impacts, miscellaneous negative environmental consequences, and aesthetic considerations,” Beardslee wrote in his decision.
Beardslee noted that the CUP is the first of many permits the county must obtain before it can mine and crush rock and gravel at the site. The CUP authorizes only the land use, while specific details of the gravel-pit operation are governed by state law on surface mining, he wrote.
If there’s no appeal, the county will buy the property and start the permitting process with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), County Engineer Josh Thomson said in an interview last week.
Okanogan County Public Works has obtained DNR permits for several other gravel pits in the county and the process is fairly straightforward, Thomson said. DNR’s main concern is ensuring slope stability. Because the area they will excavate is flat, Thomson expects permitting to be fairly simple.
For the reclamation permit, the county must show how the property will look after all mining is completed. Based on test pits, county officials anticipate there’s enough gravel to mine for 75 years.
Thomson anticipated that the earliest crushing at the site wouldn’t be until summer or fall 2020 because the state permitting process takes two or three months and the bid process for a crushing contractor will take several more months.
That timeline is too late to get rock from the new Methow pit to chip seal the Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road. The county will most likely haul gravel from another county pit to do that roadwork, since it’s already been postponed a couple of years, Thomson said. The county already has enough sand stockpiled for traction for this winter.
Okanogan County Public Works staff has said that a new source of rock and gravel for the Methow Valley is urgent, because the valley’s two existing pits are depleted.
Homeowners’ association attorney Mark Ryan said the HOA is reviewing its options and hasn’t decided whether to appeal Beardslee’s ruling in Okanogan County Superior Court. If the HOA appeals Beardslee’s decision, they would have to ask the court for an injunction to prevent the county from proceeding with the land purchase, Ryan said.
The appellants have 14 days to ask Beardslee to reconsider his decision and 21 days to appeal to Superior Court.
Conditions for gravel crushing
At the hearing, the county engineer said the conditional-use permit restricts mining from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., although Beardslee’s decision still refers to longer hours from an earlier draft. Gravel crushing, including set-up and tear-down, will last for up to five weeks every five years. Active crushing would take two to three weeks.
In extenuating circumstances, such as equipment breakdown, the permit allows the county to extend the crushing window to 10 weeks.
The disturbed area for mining and stockpiling won’t exceed 80 acres at any time. The county will use dirt from the excavation to build berms, which are intended to help buffer noise and visual impacts.