A long-running fight over a gravel-mining permit on a Thurston County site formerly owned by the Port of Tacoma appears headed for yet another round.
An attorney for Maytown Sand & Gravel Co. says the company will appeal a Thurston County Commission ruling on the permit to Mason County Superior Court. That ruling sent a five-year review of the site’s gravelmining permit back to a hearing examiner for further consideration.
Seattle land-use attorney John Hempelmann said he considers the commission’s ruling “seriously flawed.” He predicted the sand and gravel mining company will prevail in court.
The appeal will be the latest legal conflict in a battle over a tract of land near Maytown in Thurston County that the Port of Tacoma purchased several years ago with the intent of creating a rail yard, gravel mine and logistics center there.
The port abandoned its efforts to build the logistics center last year after prolonged opposition from environmental groups. It sold most of the property to Maytown Sand & Gravel. The port, however, retains a strong interest in the property’s fate, because if opponents, who want to turn the property into a wildlife preserve, prevail, and Maytown is unable to mine part of the site, the property will revert to the port. Part of the port’s compensation for the land would come in gravel mined from the property.
The commissioners’ ruling on the appeal of county hearing examiner’s approval of the permit review asked the examiner to take another look at allegedly critical environmental areas on the site to determine if they should be protected.
Hempelmann contends that the site was extensively studied before the initial permit was granted in 2005 and that some areas now slated for restudy were found not to be critical habitat.
Sharron Coontz, spokeswoman for Friends of Rocky Prairie, a group opposing the mine as now sited, said the earlier environmental studies failed to consider prairie habitat, an intermittent stream and other environmentally sensitive areas .
Hempelmann contends that the law doesn’t allow a permit to be rescinded if environmental conditions change during the life of the permit. The mining site is adjacent to a prairie habitat sold to the state. It’s possible that seeds from the prairie were transported by the wind or by animals to the mining site, he said. But they are not the predominant species even now, he said.
In any case, Hempelmann said, the county must look back to conditions in 2005, not those in 2010 or 2011.
A hearings examiner is expected to issue another ruling April 8 regarding water monitoring on the site.
The original mining permit required water monitoring to begin within 60 days of the permit’s issuance, but the port didn’t begin that monitoring until 2008. Opponents say that was fatal to the permit. The port and the sand and gravel company say that since sand and gravel mining didn’t begin when the permit was issued, the water monitoring would have showed no changes from prior conditions.