County wrong to refuse environmental review

For eight years, Lakeside Industries has been waiting for the Thurston County Commission to perform an environmental review of its request to recycle asphalt at its plant in the Nisqually Valley.

Lakeside now operates an asphalt plant that provides 45-60 family-wage, union jobs in the valley, adjacent to a gravel mine.

Recycling asphalt is prohibited by the county’s sub-area plan for the Nisqually Valley – a feature in the plan that ought to be dropped. It is that prohibition that makes the environmental review process necessary.

Recycling asphalt doesn’t require a new plant or any other new facility. Used asphalt, scraped off roads as they are repaved, is simply run through the plant’s existing machinery.

But, despite the obvious benefits to the environment of recycling asphalt, the County Commission has refused to grant a review.

The Commissioners argue that the county has limited staff to perform the review, and that they’re needed on more pressing projects. It refused Lakeside’s offer to pay for additional staff to conduct the review.

It’s obvious that at least one County Commissioner has other motivations for not granting the review. Commissioner Karen Valenzuela has been candid with The Olympian’s editorial board and in other meetings: She believes that that if the county keeps rejecting Lakeside’s request, it will become uncompetitive, and will eventually shut down.

She would like the Nisqually Valley to be devoted exclusively to agriculture, but the gravel mine and asphalt plant remain legally permitted land uses.

Apparently, throwing 45-60 people out of work is just collateral damage to her, and Commissioners Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe have apparently not contested her point of view. But all three Commissioners ought to know that it is terribly wrong for elected leaders to decide which legal businesses prosper, and which are driven out of business.

They are risking a costly lawsuit. The Lakeside complaint sounds disturbingly similar to the recent dispute that resulted in a $12 million verdict against Thurston County over the commission’s actions to block development of a gravel pit near Maytown.

The County Commissioners, like many environmentalists, may dislike gravel pits and asphalt plants, but anyone who drives on roads has to acknowledge they are necessary, and they have to be somewhere – preferably close to where their products are needed.

Federal, state and local government all encourage the use of recycled asphalt because it is a green, sustainable practice that reduces the need to mine new raw materials. When asphalt is not recycled, it gets trucked away and dumped into landfills.

Washington state Department of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson and former secretary Paula Hammond both support Lakeside’s request. So do the City of Olympia and the state Department of Ecology.

And although the Nisqually Indian Tribe has concerns, it also supports granting Lakeside an environmental review.

The Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency has told the county that Lakeside’s plant “has the appropriate air pollution control technology to effectively and safely utilize RAP.” The plant has never had an air quality infraction.

The state Department of Ecology has supported Lakeside’s desire to use RAP in its process. In 1992, the county’s own health department stated “that a waste asphalt recycling operation presents none to very minimal environmental health concerns.”

And Thurston County already permits the recycling of asphalt, concrete and wood waste in Nisqually Valley by Gilliardi Logging and Construction, Inc. The only difference is that Lakeside would add the recycled asphalt back into its plant, rather than trucking it somewhere else. Another environmental benefit.

The County Commission is wrong to deny an environmental review. It shouldn’t take a court order to grant Lakeside’s request.