Neighbors want work halted in the meantime
Okanogan County and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have taken enforcement action against Lloyd Logging for mining and excavation without valid permits at a gravel pit about 1 1/2 miles west of Winthrop.
The enforcement actions require Lloyd Logging to come into compliance by obtaining current permits, but do not require the company to stop work at the mine. The Okanogan County code provides 20 days for someone to address or appeal a problem, and state law provides 60 days.
Two people from DNR’s geology staff met with Lloyd Logging at the mine on Wednesday (April 26). DNR hasn’t required that Lloyd Logging stop work at the mine and the agency doesn’t yet know if it has the authority to do that, DNR Communications Manager Joe Smillie told the Methow Valley News. DNR’s mining staff will talk with Lloyd Logging and Okanogan County about whether excavation can continue at the pit, he said.
Lloyd Logging has 60 days to obtain a new reclamation plan, but that can be extended for good cause, such as if it takes longer to get necessary permits from the county, Smillie said.
But people who live near the pit and who travel Highway 20 between Mazama and Winthrop say that recent excavation has removed part of the hillside that formerly screened the pit from view and had also helped block noise. They want work at the mine to stop until Lloyd Logging has current permits.
“We are extremely concerned about the apparent refusal of Mr. Lloyd to remain with the already-disturbed areas of the pit as opposed to expanding the sidewalls and further encroaching into shrub steppe habitat,” attorney Peter Goldman said in a letter to DNR and Okanogan County. Goldman said he’s counseling the neighbors about their rights, but is not representing them.
Goldman said the 60-day window to correct the situation may not be appropriate. “We are concerned, based on actions within the past 2 weeks, that a lot of quarry expansion (including the screening between the pit and the highway) can occur within 60 days,” he wrote.
Goldman urged DNR and its attorney general to consider emergency action under another part of the Surface Mining Act that allows an emergency order to suspend mining to prevent danger to the public health, safety, welfare or environment.
Goldman also told the neighbors that they can seek an injunction through a nuisance action, but hopes that won’t be necessary.
DNR and the agency’s lawyer at the state Attorney General’s Office are reviewing the permits. They have found some discrepancies and sections that are unclear and are still researching precedents for actions they can take, Smillie said.
Lloyd Logging has been moving the boundaries of the pit and expanding a little bit, Lloyd Logging Secretary/Treasurer Bob Lloyd told the Methow Valley News last week. The company is working with DNR to update its permit, he said.
Lloyd Logging had permits for work at the site — a 1986 surface-mining reclamation permit from the state and a conditional-use permit (CUP) from Okanogan County.
The CUP, which was issued in 1985, was good for two years. After that, the permit either had to be renewed or Lloyd Logging would have to reclaim the site, but the permit was never renewed and work at the pit has continued, said Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer, who briefed the Okanogan County commissioners about the situation at their April 24 meeting.
Not only did Lloyd Logging not have current permits, but they have nearly doubled the size of the pit, Palmer said. The original permit allowed mining on 6.8 acres, but a DNR document from October 2022 said the pit was larger than 11 acres, Palmer said. Evidently, DNR has been sending letters to Lloyd Logging, but the company has been ignoring them, she said.
Some work at the pit involves crushing material that’s unrelated to the expansion, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said. “They still don’t have a valid permit from the county to even operate, period,” Palmer told the commissioners.
When the county conditional-use permit expired in 1987, neither the county’s Board of Adjustment nor Planning Department ever did anything to follow up, Palmer said.
Hover noted that the pit is the only commercial pit in the north part of the valley and that it provides essential material for concrete and roads. But he agreed that the company needs to be in compliance with all permits.
“No one is trying to shut this mine down. Everyone understands that we all need sustainably sourced rock. But they’re entitled to see it done right,” Goldman told the Methow Valley News.
While the state and county are responsible for permitting different aspects of operations at the mine – the state covers mining and reclamation and the county covers land use and associated mitigations – Lloyd Logging must be in compliance with both permits, or it invalidates the other one, Palmer told the commissioners.
After the visit, DNR said Lloyd Logging must modify the reclamation plan and bring its permit into compliance. Lloyd Logging will also need verification from Okanogan County that the modified reclamation plan is consistent with local zoning and land-use regulations, DNR said.
Any new permits will require review under the State Environmental Policy Act. It’s not yet clear whether DNR or Okanogan County would be the lead agency for the environmental review, Smillie said.
The situation has raised broader concerns about Okanogan County’s enforcement authority. It’s a pressing matter, since people all over the county don’t bother to get permits because the county never enforces anything anyway, Okanogan County Commissioner Chris Branch said at their meeting.
Palmer would like enforcement to be addressed in the update of the county’s zoning code, which is currently underway. The Planning Department needs to be able to assess a fine or take other actions to get the attention of a violator, and then be able to work with them to mitigate a situation, rather than having to involve the county prosecutor, she said.
In an emergency situation, the county needs the ability to issue a stop-work order to prevent detrimental impacts, Palmer and Branch said.