Since October 2017, illegal mining in eastern Clark County, just inside the northwest boundary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, has been harming Gorge lands, waterbodies, and wildlife, as well as the surrounding community, on a daily basis. The unpermitted rock quarry, located just north of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the largest and longest-running land use violations in the thirty-two-year history of the National Scenic Area.
Unfortunately, despite repeated pleas for help from hundreds of citizens, the staff of the Columbia River Gorge Commission have failed to carry out their enforcement responsibilities under the Scenic Area Act and implementing rules, thus allowing the illegal quarry to keep operating with impunity. The Commission’s staff could, at any time, shut down the illegal mining immediately by using its enforcement powers and issuing a simple stop-work order.
In October 2017, the Nutter Corporation began mining the Zimmerly property without the required land use permits, harming Gorge resources and the surrounding community. In August 2018, Clark County Hearing Examiner Joe Turner held that mining is allowed on the property under an outdated land use approval issued in 1993 by the Gorge Commission’s executive director, and that the hearing examiner lacked jurisdiction to determine whether the 1993 approval is still in effect.
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.
Since resuming mining on the property in 2017 without seeking Scenic Area permits, Nutter has 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 quarry 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 train tracks and blocking train traffic for more than twelve hours.
Since the illegal mining began, community members and Friends staff have 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.
Gorge Commission staff's failure to carry out Scenic Act enforcement mandate
This abdication of enforcement responsibilities is all the more disappointing given that the Gorge Commission’s executive director has already stated that the current mining is violating both the Scenic Area rules and a 1997 legal settlement between the Commission and Zimmerly.
Since 2016, the Commission’s director has not initiated any land use enforcement actions anywhere in the National Scenic Area. These changes send 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 affected by violations, they are on their own.
In the Zimmerly case, Clark County, to its credit, did attempt to enforce the Scenic Area rules. However, Clark County’s enforcement powers are significantly weaker than those of the Gorge Commission. Ultimately, a Clark County hearing examiner concluded that mining on the Zimmerly property appears to be lawful under an outdated land use approval issued by the Gorge Commission’s director in 1993. The Clark County hearing examiner also concluded that it is now up to the Gorge Commission to explain whether that 1993 approval is still in effect.
Friends joins appeal of county decision on mine
In October 2018, Friends joined with Clark County citizens and landowners in challenging the county hearing examiner's ruling allowing the Nutter Corporation to continue mining on the Zimmerly property. The newly filed appeals will be heard by the twelve appointed commissioners who serve on the Columbia River Gorge Commission.
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. Zimmerly and Nutter are violating the law and harming the Gorge with impunity. This illegal and irresponsible mining must stop.”
October 9 appeal documents Friends vs. Clark County Notice of Appeal (PDF)
Akers vs. Clark County Notice of Appeal (PDF)
- Quarry in Washougal incites quarrel over land-use regulations, Columbia Insight, Dec. 13, 2018
- Friends of Gorge signals it will file suit over mining pit, The Columbian, Dec. 10, 2018
- Local conservation group, neighbors files intent to sue over Washington quarry, KATU News (Portland), Dec. 10, 2018
- Groups challenging renewed activity at mine file appeals, The Columbian, Oct. 17, 2018
- Friends of the Columbia Gorge appeals Zimmerly mining decision, Oct. 10, 2018
- Opinion issued on Zimmerly quarry, The Columbian, Aug. 12, 2018
- U.S. mine faces questions over legality and safety risks, Mine Technology, July 27, 2018
- Quarry rocks Washougal, Camas-Washougal Post-Record, July 26, 2018
- "County needs to immediately shut down Washougal rock quarry," Letters to the Editor, The Columbian, July 26, 2018
- Mine traffic troubles neighbors, The Columbian, July 25, 2018
- County tells gravel pit near Washougal to cease mining operations, The Columbian, Feb. 7, 2018
- Dispute focuses on gravel mine's noise permit process, The Columbian, Jan. 10, 2018
Friends’ conservation work is driven by members, volunteers, and activists. There are many ways to join our community of Gorge enthusiasts. Here are some ways to get started:
Unpermitted mining expands as Friends and neighbors present their case for the mine’s closure.
Friends calls on Gorge Commission to stop largest ongoing land-use violation in history of the National Scenic Area.
Read Kevin Gorman's Director Letter about Scenic Area Act enforcement and an in-depth story about the quarry issue.