Samish Valley residents continue fight against open-pit mine

BY JED HOLMES

Update on Grip Road Gravel Mine Proposal and Invitation to Community Picnic & Concert

There are many good reasons to subscribe to and support your local newspaper. One often overlooked reason is the public notices section, sandwiched somewhere between the obituaries and classifieds. Over the past year, the Skagit Valley Herald published more than 1300 such public announcements. As our community learned, ignore these notices at your own risk. 

The Central Samish Valley can loosely be defined as the green pastures and rolling hills along the Samish River from Old 99 to Highway 9. It is rural but not isolated, with 1500-2000 people residing in this community. The street names here reflect the tranquil qualities of this area that attracted many of our community members: Nature View Drive, Wildlife Acres Lane, Prairie Road, Wildwood Lane, Cedar Ridge Place, etc. 

In spring of 2016, when many of us were busy tending to our gardens and farms, Concrete Nor’West applied for a permit to create a new gravel mine just 200 feet from the Samish River in the heart of the valley. The application proposes the removal of 4.28 million cubic yards of sand and gravel. For perspective, imagine a pyramid one-third larger than Great Pyramid of Giza. Imagine enough gravel to fill Safeco Field to the point that you couldn’t shut the roof, and even then you would still have some left over. Imagine a landmark roughly the size of Burlington Hill disappearing from the landscape.

In addition to the enormous environmental impact at the mine site, all this sand and gravel would have to be transported across our already overburdened rural roads. Literally, hundreds of thousands of truck trips would be required to remove all of this material. However, for many months the community (myself included) was largely ignorant of this pending development, having missed the permit application announcement in the newspaper. 

By the time the permit hearing came around in December 2016, the county was ready to sign off on the developer’s proposal and only a handful of community members were present to voice their concerns. It was a foregone conclusion that the mine would move ahead as proposed. However, thanks to a mistake in the process for notifying neighboring property owners, the calendar for public comment was reset. This respite gave the community time to wake up and come to grips with the scope and impacts of the proposed project.

A community group called Central Samish Valley Neighbors was formed, led by some very dedicated individuals who have been pushing back against this mine proposal from day one. Our mission is “to protect the safety, environment, and quality of life in the Central Samish Valley from possible negative impacts of the proposed Concrete Nor’West Gravel mine.” 

The group has organized community meetings, including one in late March that was attend by more than 125 people. It has also been able to raise funds to help pay for analysis of traffic impacts and legal consultations. These outreach efforts have resulted in more than 150 public comments being submitted to the county since the beginning of the year. 

The county has begun to take our concerns seriously. Per its latest letter to CNW, the county is now advocating for larger buffers and limited hours of operation, and it has even commissioned an additional study of the road safety impacts.  These are reversals of the positions previously taken by the county, and it is refreshing to see. At the same time, even as these shifts in the county’s perspective are welcome, we are still a long way from our goal of ensuring that any development in our community does not threaten our safety, environment, and quality of life. 

If you would like to learn more about the proposed mine, please join us for a community potluck picnic, concert, and low-key fundraiser on September 9. Starting at 2:00 pm we’ll have games and live music as well as updates on our group’s efforts with regard to the proposed gravel mine. For more information, please see our website: https://centralsamish.wordpress.com.