Listening to Community Voices: Proposed Mining in Marblemount

This article was written by Christine Sanderson, a graduate student in North Cascades Institute's M.Ed Program and a resident of Marblemount, WA. Christine is the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Graduate Assistant and believes that environmental and social justice issues should inform environmental education programming and goals.

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.

Community members gathered at Kimber and her husband Robert’s home in Marblemount last Saturday to discuss the Marblemount Quarry. Photo by Christine Sanderson.

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.

Floating down the Skagit River. Photo courtesy of Calvin Laatsch.

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.

Additional information about the project can be found on the Skagit County webpage, including access to Kiewit Infrastructure’s application materials and a Detailed Project Description.

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.

Comments

  1. Laura Barnhart

    Do not allow this to happen to our beautiful Washington forest. it will cause to much damage to the enviroment let alone the wild life. noise an pollution from the trucks, damage to out roads we just got fixed. damage and pollute our water, most of us depend on the Skagit for our water. we also have a pure aquafur in our mountains. all communities will be impacked in a negative manner. not just marblemount. No and double No for this to happen to our community.

  2. Nick Engelfried

    Thank you for this post, Christine. Below is a public comment I submitted about the project:

    Dear Skagit County Planning and Development Services,

    I am writing to express concern about the proposed expansion of the Kiewit Infrastructure Quarry operation. As a former resident of the Marblemount/Diablo area, I know one of the things that makes this area so special is its distinctively rural character. I believe a major industrial extraction project like the planned quarry expansion would disrupt life in Marblemount and surrounding communities to an unacceptable degree.

    Kiewet Infrastructure has proposed expanding the existing quarry from 20 to 79 acres, a nearly fourfold increase that would dramatically affect the local landscape. The company plans to remove 3.8 million cubic yards of quarry stone over the lifetime of the project, an environmental impact that can never be wholly mitigated. Furthermore, the project requires denuding 90 acres of forested land to remove 2.7 million board feet of timber. All of this would be happening in close proximity to a national park and federally designated Wilderness Areas. Since the establishment of North Cascades National Park more than fifty years ago, public lands managers have moved steadily toward the creation of a network of protected areas capable of preserving ecosystems and wildlife populations while supporting an economy based on tourism and land stewardship. I believe the Kiewet quarry expansion is inconsistent with the goal of an intact North Cascades ecosystem.

    As a former resident of the Marblemount/Diablo area myself, I know that many people choose to live in this community precisely because of its rural, wild qualities and because of employment or educational opportunities provided by the U.S. Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, North Cascades Institute, and other public and private entities involved in stewarding public lands. Over the years, local stakeholders have made enormous progress toward achieving a balance between conservation and development interests which prioritizes stewardship while allowing for activities that create jobs and serve a public good, such as the operation of Seattle City Light’s three Skagit River Dams. The new quarry project threatens to disrupt this balance in a way that has not happened in years.

    Among the specific impacts of the proposed quarry expansion that particularly concern me are the following:

    -Construction of a 1.3 mile gravel road for the purposes of removing timber.

    -Noise pollution from blasting and other heavy industrial activity occurring within less than one mile from about 30 homes. The nearest home is only 600 feet away.

    -Increased risk of accidents along the Highway 20 corridor caused by the addition of large, slow-moving trucks. Highway 20 is already a dangerous road with fast-moving traffic and many blind curves. I vividly remember reports of multiple traffic-related fatalities occurring when I was living in the area.

    -Visual impacts from deforestation and mining activity associated with the quarry. These would be damaging to the area’s rural character and to recreational and tourism opportunities.

    -Potential effects on sensitive or protected wildlife species, such as salmon and wolves.

    I do not think the interests of the Marblemount/Diablo area are best served by a major industrial project that will dramatically alter the local landscape for at least the next 100 years (the period for which Kiewet Infrastructure hopes to obtain a permit to operate the project). In practical terms this amounts to permanently changing the character of the area in ways that would be harmful to local residents, wildlife, and the very qualities that make this part of rural Washington unique. It is for these reasons that I oppose this project.

    Thank you for your time in taking these comments into consideration.

    Nick Engelfried

  3. Corina

    Thanks for writing this article! Our community is fighting this!
    I spoke in front of a TV camera about this for Komo News yesterday, together with several other concerned neighbors! We are extremely concerned about this proposed mine.
    It would have a huge impact on the environment, wildlife, quality of life, terrible traffic, noise pollution and our livelihood.
    We teach workshops, retreats and classes at our homestead here in Marblemount, and they are all about how to live more sustainable, healthier and simpler lives. People from all over the world come to our homestead to learn and enjoy the peaceful scenery.
    Noisy blasting and traffic would completely destroy this.
    We appreciate you writing a blog post about this. I will share it on my social media platform!

  4. Gregory Honeycutt

    We have frequently vacationed in this area for the past 40 years. I would think twice about going through this area again, given the number of trucks that would be on the road. I would love to support those who are fighting the mine. There really must be better places for them to do their mining.

    1. Greg Harlensky

      Just because the rock is there doesn’t mean you should source it there and destroy or forever alter the way of life in this pristine environment.
      I was there when President Richard Nixon officially opened the North Cascade National Park highway 20 in 1972. I knew back then and before, that the area was very special and in need of protection from heavy industry.

      Over the decades since, time and time again we learn the environmental mistakes of those preceding us in places far and wide, nationally and globally.

      We’re suppose to learn from history and not repeat
      the mistakes and quick fixes.

      Making economic sense is not always the best choice even for those who stand to profit from it.

      The passage of time over many generations has proven over and over the follies of men, especially in the mining and extraction industries.

      There must be another source for this rock that has much less impact on these communities that are at the front gate of our beloved North Cascade National Park, rivers and critters included.

      The Army Corps of Engineers and the government entities responsible for the approval of projects like this one need to look harder for an alternative.
      There is another way if they all put their heads together and find it.
      The technology in geology has advanced so why not use it to search and find this type of rock elsewhere ?

      Thank you for listening and yes this is a legacy view and that’s what we want.

  5. Sheila M LaRose

    Hello All,

    We must take action against this horrific plan. Please email me at the above address so we can unite and plan our defense. Pit cascades in the subject line. We need to act now. I am driving up to meet with the planning person tomorrow and will gain info. This cannot happen.

    Sheila LaRose

  6. Jai Boreen

    how can I share this?

Leave a Comment