Obstacles to Continued Mining

This December 2013 photo shows Smugglers Cove after shoreline barging and loading activities ceased in 2013. This past May during the "fish window" for juvenile salmon, large numbers of fish were seen in the Cove, leaping out of the water to the delight of local kayakers.

So far, as of August 1, 2014, another island organization The Lummi Island Heritage Trust continues their efforts to come to an agreement with the receiver for purchase of the Lummi Island quarry property for conservation and restoration. At this time the Heritage Trust does not have the property under contract. Although the Heritage Trust has not given up their attempts to negotiate a deal, we, The Lummi Island Conservancy, have stepped up our vigilance in monitoring activity related to the quarry.

The Lummi Island Conservancy remains fully committed to preventing mining at the Lummi Island quarry beyond the currently approved 19.5 acres. Any continued mining at the site faces numerous obstacles. The current 19.5 permitted acres of the quarry are nearly exhausted with less than an acre left to mine according to a recent WA Department of Natural Resources report.

Three stop work orders imposed by Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (WCPDS) are still in effect at the site: 1) for a haul road constructed outside of mining permit boundaries to access the upper benches; 2) for a new conveyor loading pier on the shoreline; and 3) for an accessory moorage in Smugglers Cove. None of these developments were permitted before construction and quarry owners have applied for after-the-fact permits. The applications are on hold during resolution of the receivership. Quarry managers have indicated the unpermitted infrastructure is needed for efficient operation of the mine to continue.

In a letter to Lummi Rock’s attorney dated Feb. 1, 2013, Whatcom County signaled its intention to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for all pending applications. County officials had determined that the close relationship between the various proposals necessitated their consideration as a single course of action with “a probable significant adverse environmental impact.” Therefore, a SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) determination of significance (DS) would be issued requiring an EIS. Preparation of an EIS is a lengthy (1-3 years) and expensive process ($100,000-$250,000). In a letter to the quarry owners in May 2013, WCPDS issued a June 2013 deadline for owners to commit to the EIS process or withdraw all applications and remove the illegal infrastructure. The Lummi Rock LLC receivership announcement that same month put the entire process on hold which is where it stands now.

An EIS must be done for this biologically sensitive site. No impartial in-depth environmental review has ever been conducted at the site which has been mined since 1964 before shoreline protections were put into place. The entire 105-acre property is located within a state Department of Fish and Wildlife designated biodiversity corridor. Whatcom County Critical Areas Ordinance maps and GIS (Geographical Information System) data define Habitat Conservation Areas for protected wildlife throughout the property, both marine and upland. Although shoreline modifications made by quarry operators have eliminated significant portions of nearshore habitat, Smugglers Cove still nurtures GIS mapped forage fish habitat with eelgrass beds. Opening onto Hale Passage and the greater Salish Sea, the cove is adjacent to the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds.

Species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are found in the area. These include ESA threatened Puget Sound Chinook (king) and Puget Sound steelhead. Also found in or around the property are local priority and sensitive species, such as Pacific herring, bald eagle, common loon, great blue heron, band-tailed pigeon, pileated woodpecker, turkey vulture, harbor seal, rockfish, Pacific sand lance, and surf smelt. The Whatcom County Marine Resources Committee has mapped sand lance larvae throughout Smugglers Cove and Hale Passage.

Along with Pacific herring, sand lance are an important food source for salmon. A federally protected peregrine falcon refuge is located barely a mile away on the west side of Lummi Island. Protected orca whales may venture into the area.

The property’s approximate 3,000 feet of shoreline has Whatcom County conservancy status and is subject to its Shoreline Management Program restrictions. All Lummi Island shoreline is classified as “of statewide significance.” NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has designated all Lummi Island shoreline as ESA Critical Habitat for threatened Puget Sound Chinook and is considering similar protection for Puget Sound steelhead.

Additional opposition could come from the Lummi Nation which has repeatedly expressed concern for interference with their treaty rights due to quarry operations. They have also demanded that an EIS be done for the site.

Adding to the cost of an EIS, an engineered stormwater plan would need to be implemented and a required shoreline vegetation mitigation plan approved and permitted. Costs would be involved for still-to-be-determined mitigations to protect the environment. Given these costs and associated time delays for resuming any mining at all, it seems unlikely profit could be expected in return for mining a half acre or so of remaining resource….unless acreage to be mined is expanded.

This raises the issue of expansion beyond the current 19.5 acres. A zone change approved by the Whatcom County Council would be required in order to do this. Public opposition to such an expansion approval could be fierce. Lengthy legal wrangling and appeals could be involved. The Conservancy is committed to fighting such an expansion for as long as it takes to stop it.

The Lummi Island Conservancy is an all-volunteer non-profit 501(c) 3 organization. We have enlisted sophisticated legal assistance and maintain a legal war chest funded entirely by donations from members and concerned citizens in Whatcom County and beyond. 100% of donations received go toward this campaign. Hopefully, the Lummi Island Heritage Trust will be able to purchase the property. In which case, we will have the happy option of applying these funds toward purchase of the property once we know it is safe.

In the meantime, we remain vigilant and ready to take action. Stay in touch for continuing updates.

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Video Introduces Problems With Proposed Quarry Expansion

The Lummi Island Conservancy created the following video to explain some of the issues regarding the proposed expansion of the Lummi Island Quarry:

Please donate to help us block the proposed expansion.

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May 2014 Update

Uncertainty continues regarding the future disposition of the Lummi Rock LLC quarry property located on Lummi Island. A local land trust, the Lummi Island Heritage Trust (LIHT) has entered into negotiations with the receiver for purchase of the property. The LIHT valuation of the property is based on its conservation value and low impact recreational potential.

In January, LIHT director Rebecca Rettmer gave an informational presentation to the Whatcom County Council’s Natural Resources Committee. Six out of seven County Council members were in attendance. Whatcom County Parks and Recreation has expressed interest in partnering with LIHT for purchase and recreational development of this 104 acre shoreline property. The LIHT presentation outlined for Council members a vision for this potential partnership.

Rock processing equipment has been dismantled at the site and most of it removed. The portable processing equipment, vehicles, and assorted storage facilities are the property of the former operating company, Aggregates West Inc., which is also in receivership. Sale and transport by truck of stockpiled crushed gravel product from the site is on-going.

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October 2013 Update

Things have been very quiet throughout the summer at the quarry site on Lummi Island.

Operations ceased in June, when the owner of the property, Lummi Rock LLC, joined their operating partner, Aggregates West Inc. in receivership (for details see Whatcom Watch May 2013 and August 2013). The same receiver (Resource Transition Consultants LLC) has been assigned by the courts to manage the companies’ assets. Continue reading

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“Organization Out of Control” Says Hearing Examiner

A new article in the April (2013) Whatcom Watch, begins with a description of the Feb. 13 Whatcom County Hearing Examiner’s meeting:

“This is an organization totally out of control. They do whatever they want whenever they want … all without permits.” Whatcom County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink had finally lost patience. He continued, saying he would seriously consider completely closing down the Lummi Island quarry operation and asked the county to research his legal authority to do so.

The angry outburst took place during a February 13 briefing for Lummi Rock LLC and Whatcom County Planning and Development Services. The owner of the Lummi Island quarry was appearing before the Hearing Examiner as a followup to their October 2012 appeal hearing.

Read the full article here: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

The next update meeting with the Hearing Examiner will be Wednesday, April 10 at 1:30 pm. This will be the second status update meeting, and will include discussion about scheduling a hearing for another Administrative Appeal filed by Lummi Island Rock LLC on the latest violation notice from the Whatcom County Planning And Development Services. The most recent violation involved the quarry operator’s middle of the night barge hauling operations being conducted outside of permitted hours which were causing sleep disturbance to nearby residents. The meeting will be held at the County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Ave. in Bellingham. Read the full agenda.

Once again, it’s important for everyone who can to attend the meeting. The Hearing Examiner has noted the high level of public interest, so having a sizable audience is having a favorable impact.

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Hearing Examiner Response 2/13/13

Here’s an article by Ralph Schwarz from the 2/14/13 Bellingham Herald about the Wednesday, Feb. 13 hearing before the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner, Michael Bobbink, in which the quarry operators and the County Planning and Development Services staff presented updates since the previous hearing on pending applications, Stop Work Orders appeals, and recent additional violations:

Whatcom hearing examiner blasts ‘out of control’ Lummi Island quarry

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County Issues New Violation Notice

Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (PDS) has issued a new Notice of Violation to Lummi Island Rock LLC / Aggregates West, operators of the gravel quarry on Lummi Island. The latest violations have to do with middle of the night barge operations which have continued despite efforts by the County to get the company to comply with permitted hours of operation. (See related article for more details.) Continue reading

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Quarry Regulatory Violations Continue

Unpermitted Loading InfographicLummi Island quarry operators continue to violate County regulations and directives. Two types of activities are of particular concern:

  1. operations conducted in the middle of the night outside permitted hours which regularly cause severe disturbance to nearby residents (see Afterhours Infographic PDF file for details)
  2. continuing violations of the Stop Work Order relating to use of the unpermitted accessory moorage Continue reading
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Hearing Examiner Review Rescheduled

In our last article we announced that the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner, Michael Bobbink, had scheduled a hearing on January 16th to hear updates from Lummi Rock / Aggregates West LLC (operators of the quarry on Lummi Island) and the Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (PDS).

This meeting has been RESCHEDULED for Wednesday, February 13th, at 1:30pm in the County Council Chambers in Bellingham. Continue reading

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Hearing Examiner Findings

It’s hard to believe it was clear back in October (2012) when the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner heard the appeal by Lummi Rock / Aggregates West LLC, operators of the gravel quarry on Lummi Island, on the Stop Work Orders which had been issued by the County’s Planning and Development Services (PDS). Over 40 people turned up to show support for the County PDS staff and the actions they had taken to enforce the laws regarding the quarry operation. Now the findings have been reported. Continue reading

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Canadian Deal Fails

by Meredith Moench
(Article was originally published in the Whatcom Watch, and is reprinted by permission.)

British mining company, Astar Minerals PLC, had its eye on local assets. Publicly traded and headquartered in London, Astar Minerals operates quarries in British Columbia. On November 12 they announced failure of a deal with Whatcom County’s Aggregates West, Inc. whereby the UK company would have taken over the American company’s operations and further “developed” company mining sites in Washington. Unable to raise the financing needed to finalize the agreement, Astar Minerals has announced suspension of trading and termination of the agreement. Continue reading

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