PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has adopted new mining regulations as required by state law.
The three commissioners have unanimously approved three ordinances related to mineral resources, saying they sought a balance between the need for sand and gravel mining and the need to protect the environment from its impacts.
The changes to Clallam County code chapter 27.10 and titles 31 and 33 were approved in separate votes Tuesday.
The ordinances affect nearly 300,000 acres of mineral resource lands in the county.
“This has been a year-long process,” David Alvarez, chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney, said in the virtual meeting.
The code updates were 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, Alvarez has said.
The new regulations were vetted in 15 Planning Commission meetings, two commissioner work sessions and in public hearings Sept. 29 and Oct. 13.
“Many, many people have commented,” Alvarez said.
In Tuesday’s deliberations, the board removed a proposed half-mile “no designation” zone adjacent to the Olympic National Park boundary as recommended by a 4-1 majority of the Planning Commission.
Clallam County shares a 138.8-mile boundary with the park, most of which is zoned commercial forest where mining is allowed.
Mining is not allowed in the park.
“The Planning Commission has taken a position on the issue,” Commissioner Bill Peach said of the no designation distance from the park.
“Therefore, my recommendation is the distance would be zero.”
The new regulations do not affect the long-proposed Little River Quarry off Olympic Hot Springs Road in the Elwha River Valley, Senior Planner Greg Ballard has said.
Highlights of the changes 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.
• 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.
A scoring system will measure the quality and quantity of the available material against community and environmental impacts of future mines.
“Since individual mines will have individual impacts, these impacts will be measured on a site-by-site basis,” Commissioner Mark Ozias, board chairman, said Thursday.
“In addition to developing a scoring system that attempts to measure both the quality and availability of resource, as well as impact to community and environment, we have built in some additional environmental protections such as maintaining a 5-foot distance from an aquifer.”
Other counties have used research to establish the 5-foot threshold, Ozias said in a Thursday email.
Clallam County mines are primarily used to extract sand, gravel and rock for road construction and landscaping.
State law requires the county to identify mineral resource areas and to ensure they can be accessed, permitted and mined for material, Ozias said.
“Furthermore, this material is heavy,” Ozias added, “meaning that the less distance between source and project, the less fossil fuel needed for transport, minimizing the greenhouse gas impact.”
The mining ordinances can be viewed on the Clallam County Department of Community Development website, clallam.net/DCD. Click on “Mineral Resource Lands.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].