Gravel pit project withdrawn

Applicant: Threats to family led to decision

SEQUIM — A Sequim applicant for a permit for a proposed gravel pit in Happy Valley has withdrawn his application, citing threats and even shots fired.

After the project was withdrawn Wednesday, a Thursday hearing before the Clallam County hearing examiner to consider the 4.74-acre basalt mine called Happy Valley Pit LLC was canceled.

John David Kirner, co-manager of Kirner Family Real Estate LLC No. 2, wrote building officials that his family “expected to encounter some opposition … and to honorably defend our actions and convictions. We fully expected to be rational with irrational individuals. We fully expected to come to a middle ground.”

However, they did not expect “extreme public defamation of our family’s character, and threats to our family’s way of life,” he wrote.

According to Clallam County records, the project on the west side of Happy Valley Road and Johnson Creek, aimed to extract about 214,000 cubic yards of material over five years. A single-family home was likely to be placed on the site once the mining was finished.

The operation would have been worked from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday with rock blasting proposed once per month, rock crushing on site about two days a week, and approximately 32 to 64 truck trips in and out per day as the site progressed, according to an August letter from project engineer Tracy Gudgel with Zenovic & Associates Inc. of Port Angeles.

The conditional use permit application was submitted by Kirner on Feb. 2, and in his letter rescinding the permit on Wednesday, he wrote his “family has owned and mined this land for decades, and we had hoped to sustain that legacy.”

He wrote that he had had threats of boycott of his business, anonymous threatening letters to his family’s home and threats against his family’s lives.

“Shots were fired from the public roadway into items upon my own home’s property, less than a few hundred feet of my front door,” Kirner wrote.

“This action was taken within hours after an article was aired on regional news channels about the application for the conditional use permit.”

He added, “the application for the conditional use permit was intended to continue to utilize the resources of our family land, consistent with the homesteading history of our community and land use in Clallam County.

“We never expected to receive these types of threats to our reputations and our lives.”

Residents’ responses

Kirner’s proposed project led neighbors to organize over many concerns, including traffic, noise and environmental impacts.

They conducted a meeting on July 30 that was attended by more than 100 residents, including Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias, and some formed the website stopthehappyvalleypit.org.

County building staff report they received nearly 200 letters concerned about the project prior to the planned public hearing about noise, dust, traffic and general opposition.

Diana Adamson, a spokesperson for Friends of Happy Valley, a coalition of area residents opposed to the project, wrote in a press release they “are thrilled that the application has been withdrawn (and) this proposal would have resulted in so many negative impacts, including impacts on traffic, dust, water wells, noise, and potential dangers to the environment of both humans and wildlife.”

As for the threats Kirner wrote about, Bryan Telegin, Friends of Happy Valley counsel, said the group “wishes to make known that they do not in any way condone threats, intimidation, defamation, or violence” toward Kirner and his family.”

“We wish him and his family well and hope they never experience such bad acts, now or in the future,” Telegin wrote.

Jamie and Bill Goodwin of Bell Hill wrote that “the mine is not consistent and appropriate within the character of the valley neighborhoods.”

“The mine has been closed for nearly 40 years (and) in those years that followed, hundreds of families moved into the valley and around Bell Hill,” they wrote. “The character of the valley was rural, farming and had no large housing developments 40 years ago. That is just not true today.”

Sheryl Greer of Happy Valley Road requested an environmental impact assessment, and traffic study for interconnected roads to the project.

“In just five short years, it has become exceptionally hazardous getting onto 101 from Happy Valley and turning right onto Happy Valley from (U.S. Highway 101),” she wrote.

“Happy Valley is narrow, has no walkway, no bike lame, and a ditch for much of the road.

“This road is not a location for large trucks to be on safely.”

Avonlea Lawrence of Happy Valley Road shared her concerns for animals, noise, and air pollution.

“The noise, blasting at 7 am., I would not like to wake up to that,” she wrote.

“And going on bike rides I won’t be safe anymore. The dust pollution will be very unsafe, too, especially for people who have allergies and the animals.”

Principal Planner Donella Clark in her Aug. 30 staff report recommended denying the project, writing that it conflicts with the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the area’s residential designation.

“Though mining is an important resource in Clallam County, the size and location of the proposal does not appear to be an ideal location for a mining operation, especially with the need for crushing and blasting in such proximity to residential development,” she wrote, citing noise and traffic concerns.

Clark reported that one residence was within 600 feet of the proposed property, and with nearby residences at a greater density of one dwelling per 5.1 acres, the project wouldn’t be designated as mineral resource lands without a noise study.

“Historically, the development pattern in the Happy Valley area is residential, with Bell Hill exceeding the density of typical rural development,” Clark wrote.

She added that “there are no known measures that will eliminate or even reduce (operational sounds, in particular blasting, rock crushing and heavy equipment operations) to a level compatible with the existing residential character of this area.”

“The slopes of Bell Hill further reduce the effectiveness of vegetative buffering thereby suggesting that reasonable noise attenuation to an acceptable level is not possible,” she wrote.

“Therefore the conversion of this property as proposed would be in conflict with the policies of the Comprehensive Plan and the character of the neighborhood.”

A Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) was issued with no significant adverse impacts to the area but Clark in her review would have required a 150-foot buffer from Johnson Creek rather than the classified 100 feet, and a habitat and wildlife survey to be reviewed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In its project response, Fish and Wildlife staff wrote that there “does not appear to be potential impacts to wildlife species or habitats have been fully considered” with habitats and species records showing the presence of Roosevelt elk, little brown bat, yuma myotis, residential coastal cutthroat and trumpeter swans in winter.

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal staff requested a 170 foot stream buffer to better accommodate the Sequim elk herd as they “lack a safe migration corridor due to continued development and Highway 101 and limits the herds ability to migrate and maintain healthy population.”

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Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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