An ill-fated land acquisition in Thurston County is continuing to haunt the Port of Tacoma 10 months after the port sold the property to a gravel mining concern.
Two Thurston County community groups – Friends of Rocky Prairie and the Black Hills Audubon Society – this month filed appeals of the renewal of a gravel mining permit for the port’s planned industrial tract near Maytown. A Thurston County hearing examiner approved the permit’s renewal in December.
Now, the two community groups are asking Thurston County commissioners to overturn that renewal. The commission is scheduled to hear that appeal early next month.
If the permit’s renewal is reversed, the port’s deal with Maytown Sand & Gravel could collapse, returning the land to the port for resale.
The port bought the tract in 2006 for $21 million and spent several million more dollars preparing the land for development as a logistics center. When local opposition proved stronger than the port had anticipated, the port put the land back on the market. It sold the property to the sand and gravel company for $8.5 million cash and a like amount in gravel in April. If the company is unable to mine on the site, the land will revert to the port.
Sharon Coontz, spokeswoman for Friends of Rocky Prairie, said the port is spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to ensure that the deal stays intact.
The port, she maintained, has no authority to continue dealing with issues in Thurston County because its interlocal agreement with the Port of Olympia has expired.
“The Port of Tacoma is still meddling in Thurston County land use, and that’s offensive to us,” she said. “The port doesn’t even have a right to the gravel permit, since by law they can’t be miners, yet here they are using all sorts of legal maneuvers to try to prove that a permit they let lapse is still valid.
“The port provided sworn testimony at the hearing that it always intended to mine, then in its recent brief to commissioners, insisted that the port knew it couldn’t ever mine. This sort of double talk and switching arguments to escape the consequences of missed deadlines leads to great confusion, but we’re confident that the county commissioners will be able to sort it all out.”
The community group said the port’s environmental consultants haven’t properly investigated natural changes to the site, including a new stream and marsh, and have failed to consider the presence of a rare butterfly.
The Maytown property is unsuited for industrial use because of its proximity to Millersylvania State Park and a state Department of Fish and Wildlife nature preserve, the group contends.
The port, in its reply to the appeal, raised the specter of lost jobs at the Maytown gravel pit and at others in Thurston County if the rules are applied as the two community groups suggest.
More than half of the original land was donated to the state to preserve the prairie environment and to buffer the mining activity, the port said.