Glacier considers sale of potential gravel mine

Asarco settlement money might be used to end one of the region's longest-running environmental battles.

The state’s 2010 supplemental budget, which the Legislature passed Monday night, includes a $15 million allocation from the Asarco settlement to help buy the Glacier Northwest gravel mine on Maury Island.

Glacier has been battling Vashon Island residents and environmentalists for 11 years, trying to turn the property into a major extraction and shipping operation. Now the company says it might be willing to sell, although it has not named a price.

The Cascade Land Conservancy has been trying for several months to broker a deal among Glacier, King County and the state to acquire and restore the 236-acre site.

Environmentalists on Wednesday praised legislators for keeping the Maury Island line item in the budget.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Amy Carey, board president of the environmental group Preserve Our Islands. “The Glacier site has very elevated arsenic levels, and the Asarco money is specifically earmarked for things like this.”

Business interests mocked the allocation as a waste of money and an inappropriate use of the Asarco cleanup funds.

“This is politically popular because it’s a big corporation and the neighbors don’t like it,” said Todd Myers, environmental director of the Washington Policy Center.

“But the fact is, the mine is not even on the priority list for cleaning up Puget Sound,” Myers said. “And the reason for that is, it would have a very small impact.

“This is putting environmental symbolism over environmental sustainability.”

Last December, a court-approved bankruptcy plan for Asarco provided $188 million to Washington for environmental damages from Asarco’s old Ruston smelter.

For more than 100 years, the smelter spewed arsenic and other heavy metals from its 562-foot stack, contaminating 1,000 square miles in Pierce, Thurston and King counties – including Vashon and Maury islands.

Glacier has owned the Maury Island property since the 1940s.

Geologists say it’s one of the best deposits of gravel in the country, and Glacier argues that mining sand and gravel on Maury and shipping it by barge is much easier on the environment than using trucks to transport material from mines farther inland.

Opponents argue that gravel mining has no place on Puget Sound because of potential effects on marine habitat.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693