Proposed gravel project sets off alarm bells

Gravel---CUP1

By Meg Olson

Whatcom County will take public comment until June 27 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 three acres in the center of the property.”

The project application specifies mining activity would involve the extraction of rock and sand overGravel-3 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, loaded onto dump trucks and taken across the border to the Southlands development off 56th Street.

In a phone interview with the APB, McDougall said he saw benefits to the project beyond his own financial gain.

“The more we can save trucks from driving 25 miles, it’s better for the environment,” he said. He said some of the material extracted might also be used for projects on the Point, at Seabright and the marina, and local extraction would limit the impact of those projects on the environment and on traffic.

The application projects 75 round-trips per day to the Southlands project, or one every four minutes. A new driveway from the property would enter Tyee Drive approximately 600-feet south of the border across from Point Roberts Realty.

Sarah Lawley-Wakelin from Canada Border Services Agency said they projected the operational plan they had in place would be able to handle the extra traffic. However, Jason Givens with U.S Customs and Border Protection said, “It is anticipated that this project will have a considerable impact on the port of entry and increase wait times. However, until further details become available, such as time of year, hours per day, etc., it is difficult to judge the scope of the impact.”

McDougall said that while there were a lot of trips per day, they would be very short duration. “There will only be three or four trucks hauling so the most trucks you’d see in the lineup would be two,” he said. “To the extent it causes congestion we would cut the number of trucks operating to two.”

Surface mining is permitted as a conditional use in rurally zoned areas of the county, such as the property in question, if the extraction site is limited to three acres, and only one permit for each parcel may be obtained to prevent sequential extraction at one site. In addition, only one three-acre extraction site is allowable within the boundaries of the original property if it has been subdivided since the rule was put in place.

Whatcom County planner Amy Keenan said they would be asking for additional information from the applicant about when the eight parcels now owned by McDougall were subdivided from the gravel pit’s original 30- and 20-acre parcels.

McDougall said at this time he only has plans for this one-time extraction and it was his understanding if he wanted to apply for another permit the only parcel that would qualify would be where the family’s home now sits. “Eventually I want to reclaim the site and put a lake in there with some nice building sites around it,” he said.

He added that $25,000 to $50,000 of the proceeds from this project would be donated to the library construction fund. “Whatcom County Library System was very helpful for us in the process of homeschooling our children and it’s very close to our hearts,” he said.

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 the 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 project’s on the Point. Smith has since indicated steps were being taken to ensure this did not reoccur.

A very similar application in 2000 did not move forward faced with widespread opposition from both sides of the border. Tony Slater, who owns a neighboring property, said they had the same concerns then about noise, dust, traffic and visual blight as they did then. “We’ve dealt with this before,” he said.

The 2000 application also proposed a three-acre excavation site and road access via Tyee Drive, which proponent Gordon Green said was the recommendation from the county. He had proposed using Roosevelt Drive to directly access the border crossing.

Green’s proposal was also primarily to use 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 unavailable locally.

Keenan said the official comment period for the project will close June 27, but that there were opportunities to comment up until the actual hearing. “I will always accept your comments and concerns and we’ll address them as well as we can,” she said. Their 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 or Amy Keenan can be reached at 360/778-5900,  awiser@whatcomcounty.us or akeenan@whatcomcounty.us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

15 + 8 =