Zimmerly Quarry

Zimmerly Quarry
The Zimmerly property (in the foreground) in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. (Image by Brady Holden)

Friends works to stop the largest and longest-running land use violation in the history of the National Scenic Area.

From 2017 to 2020, illegal mining on the Zimmerly property in southeast Clark County, just inside the gateway to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, harmed Gorge lands, waterbodies, and wildlife, as well as the surrounding community, on a daily basis. The unpermitted Zimmerly gravel pit, located just north of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, has been one of the largest and longest-running land use violations in the history of the National Scenic Area. Clark County officials, Columbia River Gorge Commission officials, the Clark County Superior Court, and the Washington Court of Appeals have all agreed with Friends of the Columbia Gorge that the mining activities on the Zimmerly property were illegal.

From 2020 to 2023, Zimmerly's attorney sought land use permits from Clark County to resume mining at the site, but without the comprehensive environmental review required by law. In addition, the land use application proposed a mining "haul road" in a residential area where mining uses are prohibited. In 2023, Clark County denied the land use application. In 2024, the County's decision is on appeal to the Gorge Commission.

Stop Illegal Mining at the Gateway to the Gorge

Issue summary

In 2017, after a twenty-year period with little to no mining activity on the Zimmerly property, the Nutter Corporation began mining the property without the required land use permits, harming Gorge resources and the surrounding community. In 2019, the Columbia River Gorge Commission held that Nutter and Zimmerly were violating the National Scenic Area rules by conducting mining activities without the required permits.  Despite six separate Clark County enforcement orders plus the Gorge Commission's ruling, Nutter and Zimmerly continued their unlawful mining activities well into 2020.

View Short Film "When the Hard Work Begins" About the Efforts to Stop the Illegal Mining at the Zimmerly Property:

Both Zimmerly and Nutter have a long and sordid history of mining-related violations on this and other properties. For example, during a brief mining campaign in the mid-1990s on this property, Zimmerly illegally discharged millions of gallons of sediment-laden mining runoff into nearby Gibbons Creek and Steigerwald Lake, destroying endangered salmon habitat and harming resources in the wildlife refuge. Zimmerly was fined nearly $200,000 by the Gorge Commission and Washington Department of Ecology for causing this devastating environmental damage.

After resuming mining on the property in 2017 without first seeking the required permits, Nutter illegally hauled hundreds of truckloads of gravel and dirt per day along SE 356th Avenue, threatening the safety of several families who live on this narrow and otherwise quiet residential street, as well as hundreds of schoolchildren who attend the nearby Columbia River Gorge Elementary School and Jemtegaard Middle School. In July 2018, the severe safety risks posed by the illegal hauling were brought into sharp focus when a fully loaded gravel truck lost control of its brakes while coming down the hill on SE 356th and crashed into the BNSF rail line at more than 60 mph, destroying the tracks and blocking train traffic for more than twelve hours.

Gorge Commission staff's failure to carry out Scenic Act enforcement mandate

Once the illegal mining began on the Zimmerly property, community members and Friends staff repeatedly called on the Gorge Commission staff to enforce the Scenic Area land use rules and shut down the illegal mining immediately. The Commission's executive director is required by the Gorge Commission's rules and the National Scenic Area Act to initiate enforcement action when she/he becomes aware of violations in the National Scenic Area. Unfortunately, the Commission's current director has failed to fulfill this enforcement responsibility, instead erroneously announcing that her role in the National Scenic Area is akin to that of a "neutral" judge (and thus treating herself as if she were one of the appointed Gorge Commissioners, who are required to serve very different functions from the director and the rest of the Commission staff).

This abdication of enforcement responsibilities is all the more disappointing given that the Gorge Commission's executive director has already stated that the mining activities on the Zimmerly property are violating both the Scenic Area rules and a 1997 consent decree issued by the Gorge Commission—all of which the director is required to enforce.

The abdication of enforcement responsibilities also sends the wrong message to Gorge landowners: that the Gorge Commission staff are no longer interested in enforcing the Scenic Area rules, and as a result, when Gorge residents are harmed by violations, they are on their own.

Clark County, to its credit, did attempt to enforce the Scenic Area rules, and in fact issued six separate enforcement orders and cease and desist letters to Zimmerly and Nutter. However, Clark County's enforcement powers are significantly weaker than those of the Gorge Commission.

Gorge Commissioners and multiple courts agree with Friends that mining is illegal

In October 2018, Friends joined with Clark County citizens and landowners in filing an appeal to the appointed members of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, who act as an appellate body for the National Scenic Area. In August 2019, the Gorge Commissioners agreed with Friends that the mining activities on the Zimmerly property lack the required Scenic Area permits, are not legally existing uses, and are land use violations.

Zimmerly and Nutter then appealed the Gorge Commissioners' decision to Clark County Superior Court. In 2021, the Superior Court upheld the Gorge Commissioners' decision, concluding that the Commissioners had jurisdiction over the appeal and that the mining conducted at the site in 2017 through 2020 was illegal. In 2023, a three-judge panel of the Washington Court of Appeals also upheld the Gorge Commissioners' decision and determined that any former mining rights on the property had been lost through discontinuance more than fifteen years prior. Later in 2023, the Washington Supreme Court denied Zimmerly and Nutter's petition for review, thus terminating their meritless efforts to force new mining at the site without any land use permits at all. Meanwhile, a federal case filed by Zimmerly and Nutter was dismissed as an improper attempt to appeal a state court matter in federal court.

Incomplete land use application

In 2020, Zimmerly's attorney, James D. "Jamie" Howsley of the Jordan Ramis law firm, filed a land use application with Clark County seeking permission to mine the property, as well as retroactive approval for the unpermitted mining done in 2017 through 2020. However, the land use application was severely incomplete, hid the project's adverse environmental impacts, and proposed a mining "haul road" in a residential area where mining uses are prohibited. For those reasons and others, the Clark County Land Use Hearing Examiner denied the land use application in 2023. The hearing examiner's decision was appealed, both to the Gorge Commission under the National Scenic Area Act and to the Clark County Superior Court under the Land Use Petition Act. The latter appeal was dismissed by the Superior Court in 2023, and the appeal to the Gorge Commission will be litigated in 2024.

Zimmerly Mining Decision Timeline

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Washington Supreme Court Tells Mining Violators to Pound Sand

Washington Supreme Court Tells Mining Violators to Pound Sand

Supreme Court denies Zimmerly and Nutter's petition for review and rejects their arguments that they have a right to mine the property with no land use permits.

Clark County Rejects Controversial Mining Proposal in Columbia River Gorge

Clark County Rejects Controversial Mining Proposal in Columbia River Gorge

County's project denial follows trifecta of court losses for serial mining violators

Stop Illegal Mining at the Gateway of the Columbia Gorge

Stop Illegal Mining at the Gateway of the Columbia Gorge

Just above the largest salmon restoration project in the National Scenic Area sits the most litigious mining operator in Scenic Area history.