Whatcom County will take public comment for another week on a proposal to reactivate the gravel pit off Roosevelt Road.
The 50-acre property, owned by Lori and Jason McDougall, is bounded by Tyee Drive to the west and Province Road to the east, with Roosevelt Drive to the north. Whatcom County received a conditional use permit application on May 5 for a “one-time, low-intensity mining of gravel within an area less than 3 acres in the center of the property.”
The project application specifies mining activity would involve the extraction of rock and sand over three to four months, with a proposed start date of July 2016. Between 50,000 and 100,000 cubic yards of gravel and sand would be extracted at the site, loaded onto dump trucks and taken across the border to the Southlands development off 56th Street.
A new driveway from the property would access Tyee Drive approximately 600 feet south of the border across from Point Roberts Realty. In a project narrative submitted by the proponent to the county, it was stated that “there are no natural, scenic or historic features of importance located on the subject site.” However, Whatcom County Code, Title 20.72.350 Building Setbacks/Buffer Areas requires “In existing treed areas along Tyee Drive and Roosevelt Road, a 50-foot vegetative buffer comprised of existing trees shall be maintained for visual or aesthetic purposes except for necessary ingress or egress points.”
The location of the proposed driveway is currently well-treed with various mature conifers; it would be difficult, if not impossible, to restore the site to its previous state. Given that the property currently has two existing ingress/egress points on Roosevelt Drive and Dogwood Way, one question that the hearing examiner will need to determine is whether the Tyee Drive location should be considered “necessary” as called for in the county code.
Representatives of U.S. and Canadian border agencies said they were not aware of the project and are now evaluating what impact on border crossings it might have. The applicant expects 75 round-trips per day, or one every four minutes. Due to their size, returning dump trucks would need to enter the Point via the customs lane, which for most of its length is shared with the NEXUS lane until Roosevelt Way. It would not take many trucks to clog the short customs-only lane before the NEXUS lane itself was blocked as customs traffic waited for clearance. The same scenario would occur north-bound as the Canada customs lane is also shared by the NEXUS users until Roosevelt Way.
Although the application suggests that temporary signs and striping be installed on northbound lanes to facilitate returning trucks making left-hand turns onto the project site, current no-stop zones adjacent to the U.S. port are habitually ignored during heavy border times. As Tyee Drive has just one southbound lane, trucks waiting to turn would conceivably hold up other inbound Point traffic.
In a Washington State Environmental Policy Act checklist (SEPA) submitted by the applicant, operations would start July 1 and continue until the beginning of October. As this period also coincides with extremely high border traffic, the impact on border traffic could be severe.
Whatcom County planner Amy Keenan said notifications were sent to neighbors within 1,000 feet of the property and Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee chair Joel Lantz on June 1, and legal notice of the application was published in the Bellingham Herald. Notice was not sent to the All Point Bulletin, despite assurances by county assistant planning director Mark Personius and permit center specialist Nick Smith at the July 2015 taxpayers association general meeting that this would become part of the county’s practice for significant projects on the Point. Smith has since indicated steps were being taken to insure this lapse did not reoccur.
A similar application in 2000 did not move forward after it received widespread opposition from both sides of the border. Point Roberts resident Tony Slater, who owns a neighboring property, said he and his neighbors have the same concerns about noise, dust, traffic and visual blight as they did back in 2000. “We’ve dealt with this before,” he said.
The 2000 application also proposed a 3-acre excavation site and road access via Tyee Drive, which then-proponent Gordon Green said was recommended by the county. He had originally proposed using Roosevelt Drive to directly access the border crossing.
Green’s application stated that the primary purpose was to use the extracted material to supply sand for the Point Roberts Golf Course. At the time, the county zoning code allowed the extraction of sand and gravel with the added provisions that in order “to protect the nonrenewable resources and to protect future availability of these resources for future projects at Point Roberts, the hearing examiner shall find that sand and gravel being extracted pursuant to this section shall be used only for specific identified projects at Point Roberts.” That section of county code was removed by ordinance in 2002.
“There’s a lot of value sitting there,” Green said of the site. “Maybe a million yards of good material.” The sand on the western side of the proposed extraction site is of a special grade that can be used for septic systems and sells across the border for up to $20 a cubic yard. The remaining bank sand will sell for up to $10 a yard in Delta, where bank sand is locally unavailable.
Keenan said the official comment period for the project will close June 16, but there are opportunities to comment up until the actual hearing. “I will always accept … comments and concerns and we’ll address them as well as we can,” she said. The department’s review of the application and possible impacts of the project will get under way at the close of the official comment period.
Application documentation is available at bit.ly/1UEgarC. Comments can be submitted to Whatcom County Planning and Development Services at 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham, WA, 98226. Project planners Andy Wiser and Amy Keenan can be reached at 360/778-5900, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The All Point Bulletin will cover other aspects of the project in the coming weeks.