Listening to Community Voices: Proposed Mining in Marblemount
On an unusually warm and sunny March Saturday in the Skagit Valley, I visited the home of Kimber Burrows, North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School Manager. Cars filled her gravel driveway, the surrounding lawn and continued to spilled out onto the road as community members arrived carrying lawn chairs, water bottles, snacks and notebooks. What looked liked a Saturday afternoon garden party was actually a community gathering to learn about the recently proposed Marblemount Quarry, which, if approved, would blast away at a mountain top located just 600 feet from the residential community of Marblegate.
Marblemount is a small gateway community to the North Cascades National Park. Families and individuals choose to make this their home for a variety of reasons, often intentionally choosing to live in a quiet rural community surrounded by beautiful scenery and a variety of wildlife. As the closest town to the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, many staff and graduate students of North Cascades Institute also call Marblemount home.
Kiewit Infrastructure made the proposal to Skagit County, asking to expand an existing minimal use quarry from 20 acres to approximately 79 acres. The current quarry, owned by Cunningham Crushing, is a talus-only pit for gravel rock that operates infrequently. The majority of homes in the community are located within two miles of the proposed site expansion.
The expansion would require the logging of 600 acres to allow access and infrastructure to work the quarry. Kiewit Infrastructure estimates the removal of 2.7 million board feet of timber and 3.8 million cubic yards of quarry stone over a projected 100-year project period.
Mining of quarry stone would begin at the top of the slope and be terraced down to the base. After the initial logging phase, quarry rocks would be removed from the site in trucks and trailers. The permit is requesting up to 75 loaded trucks traveling round trip to the site daily, Monday through Saturday.
The community members gathered on Saturday raised a host of concerns about the proposed project, including noise, air, and water pollution which would impact surrounding human and non-human communities.
Residents of Marblemount would experience up to 6 blasts per day during initial road construction to the quarry site. Once access to the quarry is established, two blasts per day would be used to break up bedrock, joining a cacophony of noise generated from quarry operations including the drilling, crushing and transportation of rocks.
Community members raised concerns that fuel from trucks, blasting chemicals, and other pollutants from the project could leak into the local aquifer and the nearby Skagit River. The Skagit is designated as a Wild and Scenic River and is home to endangered species including chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. Nearby cliffs are home to nesting peregrine falcons, which are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
While there will be a few added jobs with the expansion of the quarry, current jobs in tourism may be conversely impacted. Many locals rely on income from summer tourism to make a living, which may decrease if there is a increase in noise pollution and traffic.
The stone from this quarry would be used in the emergency repair of jetties along the mouth of the Columbia River and is also ideal for use in riprap construction to reduce erosion on riverine shores. Here is where the tension arises; to mitigate environmental impacts on other Washington rivers, we risk creating environmental impacts here in Marblemount and the nearby Skagit. How do we judge which community is more or less deserving of these impacts? Is there a way to do this? I do not have an answer nor am I sure if anyone can be fair and impartial in that decision making process. That said, I do feel that communities should be given time and opportunity to share and voice their opinions on decisions that will impact their home for generations.
If you would like to share your opinion, pro or con, we encourage you to make your voice heard. Public comments can be submitted to Skagit County at www.skagitcounty.net/pdscomments using the comment form at the bottom of the page. The proposal name and permit number are “Kiewet Infrastructure Quarry operation near Marblemount, Permit PL19-0033”. The public comment period officially closes on March 29.
To hear excerpts from an interview with Marblemount community members on this issue, tune into KSVU 90.1 radio during the following times:
Tuesday, March 26 at 1:00 pm
Wednesday, March 27 at 5:30 pm
Thursday, March 28 at 8:30 am and 1:00 pm
Note: Top image from Google Maps shows the proposed location of the quarry in proximity to local homes and the center of town. Created by Robert Burrows with information from the permit application.