The reuse of old asphalt and roof shingles to make new asphalt is a good-sounding idea. It’s hard to argue against reusing materials rather than putting them in landfills.
But as Thurston County commissioners consider whether to change Nisqually Valley land use policies to allow asphalt recycling, they must err on the side of protecting the environment and avoiding mission creep in land use.
Just as Lakeside Industries operates its asphalt plant in a former gravel mine, organic farms are also using the bucolic Nisqually Valley to grow and sell pristine foodstuffs. Jobs that produce foods are important — just as jobs at Lakeside Industries’ existing asphalt plant along Durgin Road are important.
So far it appears the county is taking a careful approach.
The first step before changing any land-use rule is an environmental study, which the county is just getting under way. The county still must hire a consultant to gather scientific evidence of impacts that a rule change could have on nearby an aquifer, public health, farms, traffic, and the bucolic character of the valley. Lakeside will be billed the county’s costs, associate county planner Celinda Adair says.
This process is expected to take at least nine months. Further review is expected by the county planning commission and the state Department of Ecology, according to Adair.
When Lakeside Industries opened its asphalt plant in a former gravel pit along Durgin Road in 2008 it did not anticipate using recycled asphalt, which rules didn’t allow. But times have changed.
Technology has improved, oil prices are higher, and Lakeside officials say most asphalt plants in the United States are now equipped to accommodate recycled materials such as scrap asphalt and roofing.
Perhaps the company should have known better. Its siting decision in retrospect looks short-sighted.
The history behind Lakeside’s asphalt work is controversial and drew court challenges well before it opened. Then in 2014, then-commissioner Karen Valenzuela said the county’s hearings docket was full and could not accommodate Lakeside’s request for a rule review to allow recycled asphalt.
Since then Valenzuela, a Democrat, was swept out of office by a political independent, Bud Blake. Last year two conservatives who identify as independents also won election to the three-person commission.
All three commissioners have been more open to asphalt recycling than their predecessors were.
Even Norm Dicks, the former Democratic congressman from Belfair, has urged the county to reconsider its rule barring asphalt recycling in the valley.
Though times have changed, the underlying questions not have. Can the company operate such a plant without new risks to the aquifer or other environmental harm in Nisqually Valley?
If not, don’t allow it. The way to get credible answers is to study it. There is no harm in getting the facts.