They’ve fought an asphalt plant for decades. Now, they have to battle county government.

Jan Pigman, shown harvesting lettuce Thursday at her Nisqually produce farm, has battled the proposed Lakeside asphalt plant, fearing it could contaminate the groundwater and harm the environment.
Jan Pigman, shown harvesting lettuce Thursday at her Nisqually produce farm, has battled the proposed Lakeside asphalt plant, fearing it could contaminate the groundwater and harm the environment. sbloom@theolympian.com

Howard Glastetter and his Nisqually Valley neighbors waged war against Lakeside Industries’ proposal to use recycled asphalt at its plant on Durgin Road when the company applied to open it in 1999.

“We went from door to door, did a whole bunch of stuff,” recalled Glastetter, who has lived in the agricultural-rich valley east of Lacey for about 47 years. “… We had meetings. We spent about $20,000 in hiring a lawyer to try to fight this.”

Over the years, there have been lawsuits, appeals and negotiations. Now, Thurston County commissioners have asked for a review of a policy that prohibits the use of recycled asphalt by asphalt plants the area. It’s one of the projects for the Comprehensive Plan amendments for 2017-18.

Glastetter and other neighbors aren’t happy the issue has bubbled up again. They say they’re concerned toxic runoff from the storage piles of recycled asphalt could leach into the groundwater, poisoning their drinking and irrigation water, the nearby Nisqually River and Puget Sound.

They also say the policy change equates broken promises by the county and the Issaquah-based company.

“At the time (they opened) Lakeside promised, ‘We are never going to consider doing RAP (recycled asphalt pavement) recycling,’ ” said Jan Pigman, who grows produce for the Olympia Farmers Market at her 10-acre farm in the Nisqually Valley. “We didn’t believe it.”

County officials will have a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to provide information to the community on the proposed change.

“The scope of this project is narrow and limited to the review of a proposed change to the county’s policy on asphalt recycling within the mined-out portions of gravel pits inside the Nisqually area,” said Celinda Adair, an associate planner with the county. “The project scope does not include any review of individual permit applications.”

The policy is part of the Nisqually Sub-Area Plan, which was adopted in 1992 as part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which was required by the Growth Management Act.

Glastetter still has his copy of the 121-page plan. It’s tattered and many of its pages are marked.

“It was well done,” he said. “It was a nice document. Well thought out.”

He said the plan was designed to give everyone — residents, farmers, business owners, the Nisqually Tribe, recreationalists and other groups in the Nisqually Valley — a “piece of the pie” while preserving its rural nature and protecting the environmentally sensitive area.

Lakeside opened its Durgin Road plant in December 2008 inside the Holyroyd gravel mine, which supplies rock for the plant. Officials say they knew back then that recycled asphalt wasn’t permitted.

“At the time, it wasn’t really important that we recycle because oil wasn’t as expensive,” Lakeside production manager Bill Dempsey told The Olympian in 2014.

But now recycled asphalt has become industry standard, said Lakeside division manager Dean Smith. The company can sell its asphalt for local projects for less money, if they can use recycled product.

In addition, more public agencies are using it on their roads, Smith said. The existing policy has cost Lakeside several local and regional bids, he said.

Lakeside still would need to go through a separate permitting process, which includes an environmental review, to begin using recycled asphalt, Adair said.

The concept has support. The county received 38 comments on the issue in the spring, and dozens more comments were resubmitted from 2014.

Many people wrote in support of the change in the county’s policy to allow recycled asphalt in the area, including former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair.

“Thurston County’s inaction flies in the face of the science that clearly demonstrates the benefits of the use of recycled asphalt, which includes the reduction of greenhouse emissions, reducing the need to mine for new aggregate and reducing the need to landfill this material,” Dicks wrote.

“As a former Democratic congressman who has fought over 40 years to protect our environment, including the protection of the Nisqually Delta, the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and the Fish and Wildlife in the Nisqually Basin, I would urge you to let the science and long overdue environmental review address the merits of Lakeside’s proposal.”

Lola Cain, who lives off Spurgeon Creek Road, also supports Lakeside’s proposal. She doesn’t live in the Nisqually Valley, but said she’s familiar enough with Lakeside to support its proposal.

“It’s proven itself over the number of years that it’s been there,” she said. “… It has not caused damage.”

If the county’s policy isn’t changed, Lakeside won’t be able to move forward with the permitting process, Adair said.

“They’re not allowed to put in an application with the current language,” she said.

In addition to the public information meeting, the county will hire a third-party to analyze how the policy change could affect environmental health, economics and transportation in the area, Adair said. After that, there’s a State Environmental Policy Act review.

“That review would determine if an environmental impact statement is needed or not,” Adair said.

During the process, which could take up to six months, the planning commission and county commissioners will hold public hearings to take community input on the proposed policy change, Adair said.

“We want everybody to be informed, and aware and nobody to be surprised of this project,” she said.

Lakeside owns 18 asphalt plants, and all except the Nisqually Valley plant use recycled asphalt, Smith said.

About three years ago, the company began a public campaign that included mailers and newspaper ads to pressure county commissioners to move toward an environmental review so they could use recycled asphalt.

At the time, the all-Democratic board didn’t select the proposal as a project for its docket.

Now, the County Commission is made up of three political independents. Commissioners John Hutchings and Gary Edwards each received $250 campaign donations from Lakeside in 2016, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

All three commissioners promised to make Thurston County more business-friendly. The three have indicated support for Lakeside to have an environmental review, Smith said.

“We’re glad we got the opportunity where we can put the science and the facts before everybody and that will take us where we want to go,” he said.

Pigman believes science will show that the use of recycled asphalt doesn’t belong in the Nisqually Valley. She said she hopes the county commissioners reject Lakeside’s proposal for good.

“The county intended to keep this valley as rural, farming (and) productive as possible,” she said. “… Let’s keep this valley safe. We’ve got that pristine wildlife refuge. We want to hang on to what we have.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton