Clallam County weighs mining, environmental concerns

Public hearing continued on three potential laws

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County is seeking a balance between the need for mining and the need to protect the environment from its impacts.

The three commissioners reviewed Tuesday three proposed ordinances that would regulate nearly 300,000 acres of mineral resource lands.

Commissioners deferred action on the proposals and continued the public hearing to Oct. 13.

The ordinances are related to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the right to mine and zoning, according to their titles.

Highlights of the proposed changes as outlined by Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Alvarez include:

• The designation of 272,000 acres as mineral resource lands, or MRLs, due in part to their underlying geology.

• The designation of existing mines as MRLs.

• Enacting a designation and classification system for other sites where mining would be a “preferred” use.

• Modernization of the “right to mine” section of county code to match state law.

The proposals can be viewed on the Clallam County Department of Community Development website, www.clallam.net/DCD. Click on mineral resource lands.

“The citizens of Clallam County recognize mining as an important part of the local and regional economy,” Senior Planner Greg Ballard and Alvarez said in a memo to commissioners.

“Mineral resources such as sand and gravel supply materials for road maintenance and construction projects throughout the region. The community seeks to achieve a balance between the need for mineral resources and the need to protect the environment and the community from any adverse impacts of mining through best management practices, reclamation and restoration.”

The public hearing was continued to give staff time to incorporate changes based on written and verbal public comments.

Seven speakers testified on the proposals Tuesday, three of whom raised concerns about a long-proposed quarry off Olympic Hot Springs Road in the Elwha River Valley.

Ballard said the Little River Quarry would not be affected by the proposed code changes. The quarry was first proposed in 1998.

“This is mostly focusing just on rural areas like Place Road, where instead of going through a conditional use (permit), they can go through an MRL,” Ballard said during a 90-minute hearing Tuesday.

“You could do a bigger area saying they’re trying to protect this area for compatible uses and look at it from a more comprehensive point of view than on a piecemeal basis.”

Darlene Schanfald, a Sequim environmental activist, raised concerns about the amount of land being proposed for MRL overlay designation.

“I just want to reiterate that I think this is overreach in terms of amount of land, and we strongly oppose the overlays and the impacts it would have to residents anywhere near these sites,” said Schanfald, a member of Protect the Peninsula’s Future and the North Olympic Group of the Sierra Club.

Commissioner Mark Ozias, board chairman, suggested modified language for landmarks based on comments received from Lakeside Industries and changing the criteria in a scoring system from “profitability” to “quality and quantity.”

“I really would like to encourage at least consideration for a specific definition of design standards and performance standards,” Ozias added.

“That may be clear internally, but certainly from at least one of the comments we received, it would appear that that’s not clear to potential applicants what those differences are, so I think that those should be defined.”

Alvarez said the code updates are needed because of a successful court challenge on a periodic review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

In 2018, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board said the county failed to meet the public participation requirements of the state Growth Management Act and remanded the case to the county, Alvarez said.

“We also were guilty of insufficient, or too little too late, public participation,” Alvarez told commissioners.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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