Controversial asphalt plant seeks environmental review from Thurston County to use recycled materials

It sounds like a simple request: Lakeside Industries is asking Thurston County for an environmental review that it hopes would eventually pave the way for it to use recycled asphalt product at its plant in the Nisqually Valley. After all, isn’t recycling a good thing?

Not so fast, say some of the plant’s neighbors who have spent more than a decade fighting it.

“We were opposed to them doing the asphalt in the first place,” said Jan Pigman, owner of the 10-acre Pigman’s Organic Produce Patch, which is about a half a mile away from the asphalt plant as the crow flies. “I know, from our farm, sometimes I smell asphalt.”

She sells her farm’s corn, strawberries and other produce at the Olympia Farmers Market, and she is concerned that recycled products run through the plant could carry toxic materials and cause pollution. If that happened, her farm could be at risk of losing its organic certification, she said.

“We don’t want RAP because we don’t know what kind of pollutants are apt to be in that,” Pigman said.

The plant opened in December 2008 and has the capability to produce 300 tons of asphalt per hour. Company officials say that it’s state of the art and that it recently won an ecological award from the asphalt industry.

But it was built in an area of the county that has zoning regulations prohibiting RAP in asphalt manufacturing.

Lakeside production manager Bill Dempsey said the company knew about the restrictions when they built the plant off Durgin Road Southeast. It’s inside the Holroyd gravel mine, which supplies rock for Lakeside’s asphalt.

“At the time, it wasn’t really important that we recycle because oil wasn’t as expensive,” Dempsey said.

Since then, RAP has become an industry standard, and more public agencies are using it on their roads, according to Lakeside division manager Dean Smith. In fact, the Issaquah-based company uses RAP in 17 of its 18 plants from Canada to Hillsboro, Ore.

Not being able to use recycled asphalt in its plant near Lacey makes the company uncompetitive, and that has cost Lakeside several local and regional bids, Smith said.

The company has tried to get the county’s regulations, which are part of the Nisqually Sub-Area Planning Area, amended to allow recycled asphalt in their plant for eight years, he said.

Dempsey said the county’s RAP prohibition doesn’t take into consideration modern asphalt plants that are much cleaner and more efficient than those in the past; he said it also was drafted at a time that misinformation was being spread largely by oil and rock companies that were facing financial losses due to RAP.

“There were a lot of misconceptions, in my opinion,” Smith said.

A complicated process

In order to get a regulation changed, Lakeside needs to get a county review on the environmental impacts of using RAP at their plant.

In a story in the industry publication Asphalt Pro, Smith said Lakeside is working with the county and its neighbors to change the zoning so that it will allow the plant to recycle both asphalt and shingles.

He confirmed with The Olympian that lifting Thurston County’s RAP prohibition would open the door for the company to recycle shingles, which are 99 percent oil, and could be crushed and added into the asphalt mix.

But for now, Lakeside officials are concentrating on getting permission to run recycled broken-up asphalt through the plant, he said.

It would only take a few days to modify the plant to process RAP, and the company would be able to get rid of a huge pile of material that has collected over the past five years, Dempsey said. Most of the material is from clean-outs of the plant’s machines and is still quality material, he said.

Dempsey said adding recycled material to the mix is a safe process.

“You wouldn’t be exposing the recycle to any flame,” he said.

In the past, Thurston County officials have said they didn’t have the staff resources to address Lakeside’s request because other projects have taken a higher priority. That’s why the company has offered to pay Thurston County to hire a third party to oversee the review, Dean said.

But first, Lakeside’s request would need to rank highly enough to make it onto the docket of proposals that the Thurston County Commission will forward to the Planning Commission for review.

During a meeting with The Olympian editorial board on Wednesday, commission chair Karen Valenzuela described Lakeside Industries’ request as “a thorny, difficult, very contentious issue.”

“The Nisqually Valley is zoned for agricultural use,” she said. “I do know that Lakeside knew when they built the plant that there was a prohibition of recycled asphalt.”

Valenzuela said the county has never put it on the docket because it doesn’t have the staff resources to review it. It has also been in competition with projects that were state or federally mandated or had a bigger regional appeal.

This year, there are nine proposals to add to the docket including the Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan, Shorelines Master Plan policies and regulations, annual amendments to the Capital Facilities Plan and a land-use plan amendment for The Evergreen State College that includes creation of a new institutional zoning district.

The county is accepting public comment on all of the proposed comprehensive plan amendments through Oct. 2. Only a handful are expected to make the docket.

“Nobody opposes recycled asphalt — that is not the question,” Valenzuela said. “The question is (whether the county should allow an) expanded non-conforming use in the Nisqually Valley.”

Scott Clark, director of the county’s Resource Stewardship department, said there has already been “substantial public process on this particular issue.”

Lakeside’s asphalt plant was approved in April 2001 by a hearing examiner, but foes appealed the decision to the Thurston County Commission, saying it conflicted with the county plan adopted in 1992 to protect the valley. The commissioners overturned the approval, and Lakeside appealed their decision in Mason County Superior Court in June 2002.

A Mason County judge ruled against the county, saying the plan did not prohibit asphalt plants. The county and opponents appealed that ruling to state superior court which ruled that an asphalt plant could be built in the valley, but it would not be allowed to process RAP.

“If you came in today and applied for an asphalt plant and a mine in a critical aquifer recharge area, we would not approve it,” Clark said.

‘A good neighbor’

Gary Talley, who lives across the street from the asphalt plant, was one of Lakeside Industries’ biggest opponents 15 years ago.

He said he still disagrees with the company on some environmental issues, particularly if they were to run contaminated recycled material through their plant. But company officials have assured him that they would be careful what materials are run through the plant, he said.

Talley said he has faith that Lakeside workers would keep their word.

“They’ve been very good neighbors,” he said. “I will not stand up and oppose them anymore.”

Howard Glastetter, who has lived in the Nisqually Valley for 45 years, said all of the Lakeside employees he’s met have been polite and hardworking, and the plant “has been a good neighbor.”

He’s a past member of the county’s Asphalt Advisory Task Force and believes the regulation against RAP is still warranted in the Nisqually Valley.

“There is reason to be concerned when storing recycled asphalt pavement over the permeable soil of a gravel mine, exposed to rainy weather like we have here,” Glastetter said. “I think recycling (asphalt) is a good thing; I just don’t think it’s a good thing here.”

As in years past, the county has already received several letters both in support and opposition of the issue, Clark said.

Darren O’Neil, secretary of the Teamsters Union Local No. 252, wrote a letter to the county commission, urging them to place the issue on the docket.

“The labor community strongly supports Lakeside with this effort,” O’Neil wrote. “Lakeside is a union employer who is creating jobs through their state-of-the-art asphalt facility. The State Labor Council supports the use of recycled asphalt because not only is it considered an environmentally encouraged practice and saves taxpayer dollars, but most importantly, it creates jobs locally.”

David Schaffert, president of the Thurston County Chamber, also wrote in support of adding Lakeside to the docket.

“The length of time to consider the proposed amendments is problematic both as a decision making process to Lakeside, but also from a larger business climate issue on how business and their interests are treated by Thurston County,” Schaffert wrote.

He added that if Lakeside could use RAP, it would be using fewer raw materials, and asphalt for projects in the area would be hauled fewer miles, which reduces the carbon footprint.

Meantime, resident Thomas Cook urged the commissioners to reject Lakeside’s request to go on the docket. He also submitted about 35 pages of background on the issue, including court rulings and reports about health and environmental dangers of asphalt plants.

“RAP can have unknown chemical mixtures that may have high levels of toxic constituents in it due to chemical spills on highway pavement and chemical pollution from oil leaks, antifreeze, brake drum filings of various toxic metals,” Cook wrote.

In 2013, the Nisqually Tribe, which also opposed the plant in the beginning, asked county officials to withhold Lakeside’s request to get on the docket. After 12 months of discussions with Lakeside and its representatives, tribal chair Cynthia Iyall wrote a letter on Aug. 7, 2014, in support of an environmental study assessing “the full environmental, health and long term community ‘quality of life’ impacts of an asphalt recycling operation” by Lakeside Industries.

The request does not change or lesson the tribe’s underlying concerns about the plant or asphalt recycling in the Nisqually Valley, Iyall wrote.

“Further, the tribe is hopeful that this environmental study may provide an opportunity for the parties involved to assess alternative locations for the asphalt plant itself, as part of a package to reduce or minimize identified impacts from the asphalt plant and recycling operations to the valley and its residents,” the letter stated.