Unpermitted mining expands as Friends and neighbors present their case for the mine’s closure
Contact: Burt Edwards, communications director | 971.634.0595 (office) | 703.861.8237 (cell) | email@example.com (email)
PORTLAND, OR – On Tuesday, Aug. 13, Friends of the Columbia Gorge (Friends) and over a dozen Clark County landowners will present oral argument to the Columbia River Gorge Commission calling for the closure of an illegal mining operation in Clark County within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Meanwhile, the mine owner and operator have continued to expand their operations in violation of county rules and Gorge protection laws. Immediately following oral argument, the Gorge Commission will decide whether to overturn a 2018 ruling by a Clark County Hearing Examiner that had allowed Nutter Corporation to mine for the past year on the Zimmerly property in eastern Clark County. The appeals will be decided by the twelve appointed commissioners who serve on the Gorge Commission.
Yet, even as the appeals are pending, Nutter and Zimmerly have begun an unpermitted rock crushing operation on the property in violation of past Clark County orders and Gorge protection laws.
Speaking about the appeal filings, Friends Senior Attorney Nathan Baker said:
"This is the largest ongoing land use violation in the history of the National Scenic Area. Lawless mining in the National Scenic Area is harming the Gorge and neighboring property owners. This illegal and irresponsible mining must stop."
Friends Conservation Director Michael Lang added:
"Due to a recent lack of enforcement by Gorge Commission staff, citizens have been forced to defend the Gorge and their property rights by appealing county decisions. For nearly two years now, countless members of the community have asked the Gorge Commission to take action. On Aug. 13 the Gorge Commission will have a choice: confirm that the mine is illegal and order it to shut down, or send the message that our national scenic treasure is now open to illegal mining and development."
General background informationIn 1993, Zimmerly applied for a surface mining operation at the site. The Columbia River Gorge Commission conditionally approved the mine, requiring controls for erosion and surface water and providing that the permit would be void if operations ever cease for one year or more. The decision did not allow rock crushing at the site.
In 1996 and 1997, Zimmerly released large amounts of silt-laden water into Gibbons Creek, a nearby salmon-bearing stream, and into Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. A multi-agency enforcement action resulted in the largest civil penalties assessed against a mining operation for water quality violations in Washington state history. The Columbia River Gorge Commission entered into an enforceable consent decree with Zimmerly in 1997.
For nearly twenty years, the mine ceased operation. This long period of inactivity automatically voided the 1993 permit under its own terms.
In October 2017, Nutter Corporation began mining and crushing rock on the Zimmerly property, without first obtaining any of the required land use permits, in the process harming Gorge resources and the surrounding community. In August 2018, Clark County Hearing Examiner Joe Turner held that mining appeared to be allowed on the property under the 1993 Gorge Commission permit, but that he lacked jurisdiction to determine whether the 1993 permit is still in effect. The hearing examiner also ruled that rock crushing is prohibited under the 1993 permit, and reiterated that ruling on reconsideration.
In October 2018, Friends and the neighboring property owners appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the Gorge Commission. For the next nine months, Zimmerly and Nutter fought unsuccessfully before the Commission and in Clark County Superior Court to get the appeals dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.
In July 2019, Nutter once again began an illegal rock crushing operation in direct violation of the hearing examiner’s decisions. Clark County is currently investigating the latest rock crushing and other violations on the property.
Oral argument before the Gorge Commission is scheduled for Aug. 13 at 9:00 a.m. at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, OR. At the conclusion of oral argument, the Gorge Commissioners will deliberate and reach an oral decision, to be followed at a later date with a final written order.
Friends' Conservation Director Michael Lang and Senior Attorney Nathan Baker are available for additional background or legal analysis. For interview requests please contact Burt Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 971.635.0595 (office) or 703.861.8237 (cell).
Oct. 9 appeal documents and site photoshttps://gorgefriends.org/assets/friends/PDFs/Legal/Friends_v_Clark_County_Notice_of_Appeal.pdf https://gorgefriends.org/assets/friends/PDFs/Legal/Akers_v_Clark_County_Notice_of_Appeal.pdf
Related recent media coverage"Mine traffic troubles neighbors: Gravel pit's legality in question as residents report rise in truck traffic along rural road near Washougal," Jake Thomas, The Columbian, July 25, 2018.
"Quarry rocks Washougal: Neighbors, Columbia Gorge advocates say rock pit poses safety hazards, creates nuisance," Kelly Moyer, Camas Post-Record, July 26, 2018.
“Washougal rock crushing raises alarm, Friends group, neighbors warn of illegal activity at mine in National Scenic Area,” Kelly Moyer, Camas Post Record, Aug. 1, 2019
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Friends of the Columbia Gorge is a community-based, nonprofit organization with over 7,000 members dedicated to protecting and enhancing the scenic, natural, cultural and recreational resources of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Friends maintain an office in Portland, OR as well as in two Gorge towns -- Hood River, OR and Washougal, WA. Learn more: gorgefriends.org or follow-us: @GorgeFriends