This article is a sequel to an article about the proposed Parkhurst development which appeared in the December, 1998, issue of Whatcom Watch, "Home Developers Have Flagrantly Violated Bellingham Laws." In that article the developers´ violations of Bellingham´s land clearing code were discussed.
The developers of the Parkhurst Development are expected to ask the Bellingham City Council on July 12, 1999, to sign off on the first phase of their plat development. The Parkhurst developers must be very confident of their political pull to advertise" lots with a view of Lake Padden and the bay" after illegally clearcutting the property, and before the city has approved the development.
When this notorious development was proposed in October of 1997, all the buzzwords sounded so good: growth management, in-fill, cluster housing, minimum environmental impacts.... So what went wrong? How do we prevent bad development from ruining what makes Bellingham so great? The Parkhurst case brings up some interesting issues:
We´re ultimately left with the biggest issue. What is the long-term precedent if Parkhurst is allowed to just move forward? Will we allow more poor development with the "what´s done is done" philosophy of decision-making until Bellingham´s entire urban growth boundary is filled, and the remaining forests, creeks, ponds, wetlands, and lakes are trashed?
Here are seven hard lessons learned from the Parkhurst development:1. Make the penalty exceed the crime.
Do we expect that crime would suddenly stop if the police announced that every thief they catch will have to pay back 10 percent of what they stole? Yet Parkhurst developers Ted Gacek and Greg Eiford, and their contractor (Northwest Chipping and Grinding) removed 75 logging truck loads worth $61,349, literally ignoring the city grading ordinance and requirements for native vegetation buffers, for which the city fined them $6,000. Will a $6,000 fine deter more future problems like this?
Fortunately, with the threat of criminal charges they were forced to plant $50,000 worth of new trees. Unfortunately about 50 percent of the trees died, and more will die this summer. Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundsen has stated publicly that final plat approval will not be granted until all of the trees and shrubs have made it. We should hold him to this statement.2. Make development responsible for their off-site impacts.
This past winter will be remembered for record snow on Mt. Baker, but more memorable for some were the rains that carried truckloads of sediment-laced runoff down the steep, devegetated hillside into a wetland, Padden Creek, and Lake Padden via the "Lake Padden Watershed" property between the streets of Governor and 48th. Go down into these waterways today and they are literally clogged with dirt from the grossly unprotected Parkhurst slopes.
What happened to BMC 15.42.060-(3)? It says that the property owner, and all persons engaged in development and land-disturbing activity are liable, should they fail to mitigate for off-site water quality impacts. Why won´t the city enforce this?
Last November the Cedar Crest Mobile Home Park was flooded on Thanksgiving Day with Parkhurst runoff. The city and the developers still know the downstream pipes are not large enough to handle the increase in water from Parkhurst. This must be dealt with before this plat can be approved., especially with the threat of a sewage spill at the Mobile Home Park, should rocks and sediment again inundate their sewer system.3. Restore faith/credence in the public process.
In all the public meetings stormwater issues were identified by city staff, citizens, and the local Samish Neighborhood Association as major issues. Stormwater questions were received from the public during the environmental impact statement process. Warnings were given to the city before a steep hillside blew out on the first storm. Why should citizens give up valuable free time to testify at meetings, when the very issues they bring up are never addressed and developments breeze through with a rubber stamp of approval?4. Don´t make a mockery of the environmental impact statement process.
This is state law. It is the very minimum to insuring a well thought-out development. It does not protect anything. It is merely a checklist the developers must answer detailing potential impacts on the land/waters in and around the development. The public is then given the chance to comment on the accuracy of the statement. Sometimes it is their only chance to raise specific issues.
When a developer says in their environmental impact statement "no clear cutting will take place," no creative excuses (including "the plans changed") can cover the reality when nearly every piece of vegetation is removed and the site is scraped down to bare dirt. I would think people specializing in "land use" would be aware of land use laws. Both the city and the developer should be legally liable for false information in environmental impact statements, and corrections should be widely announced to the public.
Also, how can an environmental impact statement looked at by both the city and developers forget to mention where they are putting the majority of their runoff? The Parkhurst Environmental Impact Statement said, "three wetlands have been identified," but who forgot to mention the fourth wetland?" The fourth wetland was the one that was going to have a pipeline placed into it carrying the majority of the surface runoff.
Even more difficult to understand is that this particular wetland was designated in a city critical wetland inventory. And although Bellingham law (BMC 16.50) prohibits it, they were allowed to dump the majority of sediment-filled runoff from the construction site directly into this wetland, redirect the flow of the effluent by digging a trench across the wetland, bring in bags of concrete, cut down trees, and alter the natural hydrology of the wetland. There was no mention of this wetland even being considered for potential impacts before April 3, 1998, despite city and state laws designed to document this sort of major off-site impact.5. Put some spine in city codes (especially the wetlands/clearing ordinances).
We have some good laws; the problem is there is no incentive to follow them. The deterrent is either too small, or enforcement is ignored by city and elected officials.
In this case, the clearing and stormwater issues have still not been addressed. Plain and simple, the outflow for this development is against Bellingham law (BMC 16.50.090). The city has failed to enforce this rule and allowed a regulated activity to be performed in a wetland without a wetland permit from Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department. To this date no such permit was ever granted. This is a misdemeanor with a fine of no more than $1,500 for each offense, and can be applied daily to continuing violations. Since last November, that´s $315,000 worth of unpaid "parking tickets" for Parkhurst. No one has said it yet, but for this there should be wetland mitigation demanded from this development.
A Federal Non Point Discharge Elimination System permit was also required 38 days prior to land clearing, but a permit was not applied for until 60 days after clearing. This was only after a citizen complaint led to a state notice of correction citing violations of:
Just discharging stormwater without this permit violates both state and federal law and a failure to comply can result in penalties up to $10,000 per day for each violation. Will Parkhurst pay $980,000 for their first 98 days of violating this law? Or instead do our elected officials give them the right to sell 60 lots at $80,000 apiece for a take of $5.5 million dollars? With that kind of money on the line, it pays to ignore the laws and pay the $6,000 fine, or just wait until someone says "you need a permit for that" after you´ve done it.6. Wake up and smell the endangered species listing of Puget Sound Chinook.
We paid city staff to attend a workshop in May, 1998, on salmon and urbanization at which the published conclusions were to:
A. Address hydrological impacts of development.
B. Protect riparian corridors.
C. Restore physical habitat (i.e. wetlands, streams).
D. Improve water quality.
Read those again and grade the City of Bellingham´s response in terms of the Parkhurst development.7. Improve communications:
In the end, how can anybody involved in this project justify to the public why it should continue to move forward? Why should we take on the long-term maintenance of this development´s roads and stormwater system? The developers take in $5.5 million dollars. The city inherits the costly problems of poor design and development that they allowed to take place.
In the end our elected officials decide whether to approve the final plat; all we can do is tell them that we think. Personally, I don´t think it´s too extreme to want the next generation of Bellingham residents to be able to drink the water from Lake Whatcom, swim in Lake Padden, and see salmon in the creeks. Approving more plats like this one will not get us there. Don´t approve it.
If you would like to speak out about this development, contact the Mayor´s office.
Mayor Mark Asmundson
210 Lottie Street,
Bellingham, WA 98225
In November, voters will decide if acceptance of infectious medical waste in Whatcom County will be limited to the amount that is locally produced.
On April 27, one month ahead of the deadline, over 13,000 signatures were turned into the Whatcom County Auditor´s office to put this important issue before the voters. At least 8,564 signatures of County registered voters were necessary to put Initiative 1-99 on the ballot.
At present, there is no limit on how much infectious waste can be imported into our county. Recomp, built to handle local municipal garbage, has been accepting over 300 tons per month of imported, infectious waste from Canada, California, and elsewhere.Limiting Infectious Waste
Infectious medical waste comprises less than 0.3 percent of our municipal garbage (solid waste). Initiative 1-99 will limit the amount of infectious waste which can be accepted at any commercial treatment facility, including Recomp, to 0.3 percent of our solid waste stream. Initiative 1-99 will keep our community´s risk of exposure to infectious waste proportional to what we produce locally.
Presently, a Recomp worker has hepatitis C, which, his doctors believe, he contracted from handling infectious waste at the facility. He is not the first worker to make that claim. According to his attorney, Breean Beggs, "signed statements from workers report that workers routinely were required to handle leaking containers which dripped and splashed on their clothing. These containers contained raw biological waste. Workers reported that they were given inadequate safety materials, including regularly being denied masks, respirators, rubber boots, or adequate hand protection. Many workers report being stuck by needles, in addition they report being discouraged from filing labor and industry claims."Tuberculosis Hazard
At the only other large-scale infectious medical waste treatment facility in our state, workers contracted tuberculosis, including multi-drug resistant strains. Of the 30 workers employed, sixteen tested positive for tuberculosis, and at least three presently have active tuberculosis. The sick workers currently receive compensation from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. However, they receive less monetary compensation through their claims than what they earned when they were healthy and employed. One worker, Dave Willey, has been taking a line of powerful drugs for over two years to kill the tuberculosis. The side effects include diarrhea, headache, nausea, fatigue, cramps, memory loss, and major depression. There is no guarantee that the drugs will prevent his death from tuberculosis, and the drugs are hard on his liver and other organs.Worker Safety
In Washington State, workers made sick by sloppy handling practices at commercial infectious waste treatment facilities cannot sue their employers for gross negligence. They are destined to live out agonizing days in poverty.
Commercial infectious waste treatment facilities have virtually no liability regarding worker safety. The only incentive is maximizing profits and that, according to the workers, is frequently done by cutting corners. Unfortunately, Whatcom County will reap the consequences. When workers are infected, their families and our community are exposed to greater risk of disease.Public Health
Last year, Washington State agencies, including Health, Ecology, and Labor and Industries, issued a position paper warning that the general public may face infection risk from infected workers at regional facilities. They stated there are limited local resources and expertise to adequately address the risks. They also reported that the greatest risk to waste workers is the aggregation of infectious waste at regional facilities.
Recomp has already been cited and fined for serious waste-handling violations which exposed its workers to health risks.
The greater the exposure, the bigger the risk. The larger the amounts of infectious waste imported into Whatcom County, the bigger the risk for the workers and, ultimately, our community.Alternative Sterilization Methods
Representatives from Sanipak, Inc., and the Mark-Costello Company, two long-time manufacturers of infectious waste sterilizers, recently presented alternatives to the Whatcom County Medical Waste Task Force. According to both companies, off-the-shelf technology exists for local, small-scale treatment which is safer and much cheaper than hauling untreated infectious waste to remote regional locations. In fact, transporting large amounts of infectious waste long distances to Whatcom County increases the risks of exposure to exotic strains of virulent superbugs to which our community has no built-up immunity.
Recomp is presently treating infectious waste with second-hand equipment which was shut down in Canada. The equipment had documented emissions problems in Canada. According to Lowell Haugen, another manufacturer of infectious waste sterilizers, large-scale equipment, like Recomp´s can incubate rather than destroy infectious organisms.County Health Officer
Whatcom County´s new Health Officer, Dr. Greg Stern´s recent comment in The Bellingham Herald (May 18, 1999, page 2) that the initiative would probably "shut down Recomp" was inflammatory and not true. It does a terrible disservice to the many thousands who signed the initiative. Recomp recently received $10 million for subcontracting municipal garbage. Recomp enjoys a huge income without importing enormous amounts of infectious waste. Since its garbage permit is not transferable, if Recomp shut down, it would lose its $10 million contract. If Recomp ever shuts down, it will be because if has already maximized its profits, not because of the initiative. The taxpayers pay Dr. Stern´s salary. Yet, his biased, incorrect comments reflect Recomp´s public relations hype.
Dr. Stern´s claim that Recomp is only treating "small amounts of medical waste" is misleading. Perhaps recently, while testing equipment, Recomp may have handled less infectious waste. However, Dr. Stern knows very well that Recomp has been importing hundreds of tons per month and can, in the future, import as much as the market will allow if we don´t enact a limit.
Dr. Stern´s claim that local small-scale treatment would "require more county staff to inspect" contradicts his own statements at the May 21 Medical Waste Task Force meeting. At that meeting he admitted not even knowing how infectious waste is currently handled and stored at local medical facilities.
If Dr. Stern were genuinely worried about "transferring our concerns onto someone else" as he stated in The Bellingham Herald article he would be actively assisting our efforts to implement cost-effective local solutions instead of parroting Recomp´s position.
It´s called community stewardship, and it is a two-way street. Keep our risks proportional to our community and whenever physically possible, as in the case of infectious waste, take care of our own. Ironically, Whatcom County´s infectious waste is not going to Recomp, but to the other large-scale facility where workers contracted tuberculosis. According to Dave Willey, the tuberculosis-ridden worker, "Hospitals are to treat the sick, not spread sickness." We should be taking care of our own infectious waste instead of sending it to expose some other community. It seems that Dr. Stern should be leading that charge instead of implying that it is not presently happening.Initiative Needed to Reduce Risk
Our Initiative 1-99 will not solve the problem. However, it will keep the risks proportional until we have health officers and others who will represent the public interest and insure community stewardship. Whatcom County has already become a large-scale, international, infectious waste repository. There is no public benefit to that.
To keep the public health risk proportional to our community, we must limit the amount of infectious waste which can be locally accepted to the amount which is locally produced. Please vote for Initiative 1-99.
I have become totally intrigued with natural gardening. My initial impetus for changing from the average possessed gardener to my present more focused obsession with Pacific Northwest natives was a desire to attract wildlife and reflect the characteristics of my favorite outdoor areas--alpine and forest environments.
Nature offers incredible models for landscape design. Take advantage of this vast pool of information and ideas. Walk serene woodland trails. And observe. Picnic on rocky alpine outcrops. And take notes. Stroll through meadows of wildflowers. And take photographs. Look at individual elements and over-all landscape scenes. Notice plant combinations, arrangement of rocks and logs, soil, drainage, and mulch.Observing Plant Communities
Plant communities change over time and across space. You may find that some plants adjust to a wide range of conditions and appear in more that one community. Other plants require specific conditions and will only survive in that niche. Plants requiring very specialized conditions are difficult to grow outside of their native habitat. This may be the basis for the mystique that wildflowers are difficult to grow. Native wildflowers dug in the wild have a very high mortality rate. Not only are they being taken out of one climatic zone and transplanted into another, but if taken in bloom their growth cycle is not at a point where they can not make new roots.
Nursery propagated native plants have been grown in conditions similar to yours. If your favorite retail nursery does not carry native plants, ask them to do so. Small specialty nurseries offer a good selection of natives. You can experiment with propagation from seed or cuttings if you are patient. Seeds can take up to 18 months to germinate.An Abundance of Penstemons
Penstemons are a genus that deserves a closer look. They come from the gorgeous Scrophulariaceae or Figwort Family. There are 272 species in North America. About 80 species are native to the Pacific Northwest. Penstemons are found in meadows, forests, canyons, rocky slopes, and dry sandy banks; from the foothills to alpine regions.
Penstemon means "almost a stamen," referring to a sterile stamen called a staminode that is typical of the genus. This staminode is often hairy, hence the common name Bearded Tongue. The flowers are tubular usually with two petal lobes above and three below. All are perennial (some short-lived). Virtually all require good soil drainage and partial sun. Overwatering after the plant is established and too much fertilizer are detrimental. Hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar. You will be fascinated by the diversity in form and color.Habitat Clues to Success
A plant´s native habitat holds the key to its cultural requirements. Plant adaptations to the alpine/subalpine environments of many western species of Penstemons include dwarf size, small leaves, evergreen, low spreading habit, and amazing large blooms held close the ground. These characteristics make them choice rock garden plants.
Since rock gardens allow the gardener wide latitude in feeding their plant fever, I am going to focus on using Penstemon in this setting. You can create habitats for plants not normally successful in our maritime climate or you can interpret the rocky outcrops or balds on the Chuckanuts and coastal areas. A garden of rocks is a perfect palette for showcasing the delicate beauty of native wildflowers. Rocks provide interesting color, texture contrasts, and aesthetic interest in the winter.Choice Species of Penstemon
Penstemon lyallii is a spectacular contrast to the rocky outcrops at subalpine and alpine elevations where it grows. It has distinctive long, narrow leaves and pale lavender flowers. A peek inside the flower reveals long, soft white hairs. The alpine and subalpine ecosystems support some glorious specimens of Penstemon. But high-mountain climate has cold wind, intense sun, a brief growing season, cool weather, and an insulating, constant snow cover in the winter. Drainage is never an issue. To grow these plants at a lower elevation and/or in a wet, mild climate requires some compensation for the differences in environmental conditions.
Penstemon davidsonii is a showy evergreen species that produces a dazzling display as it cascades over a rocky slope with 2-3 inch purple flowers on a dense prostrate mat of tiny leaves. It develops deep roots to reach down for adequate moisture, but the plant sits on a dry rocky mulch. Soil in alpine areas tends to be thin with little humus to hold moisture. Rain percolates quickly through the rocky ground around the crown of the plants. Alpine and many species from the east side of the Cascades require this sharp drainage. Here on the wet, west side of the Cascades use a scree bed with a light soil mix that draws well and a gravel or stone mulch several inches deep to keep the crown dry.
Penstemon procerus dots dry alpine meadows. This tiny deep blue flower highlighted with violet is only 6-9 inches tall, a perfect size for rock gardens. The growing season in alpine areas is only 90-100 days; the growing season at our mild low elevation is over 200 days. Many gardeners help plants make this adjustment by limiting nutrients, especially nitrogen and organic matter. Nitrogen encourages growth and the alpine plant can literally burn itself out by rapid growth.Creating Microclimates
Natural elements such as rocks have a definite function in the ecosystem. They caste shade which helps cool the soil, mimicking the cool soils of alpine areas. Moisture is channeled toward the roots slowing evaporation of the infrequent rains of late summer. The placement of rock provides barriers between distinct growing environments with different soil mixes. They also create microclimates. The south side of the rock face absorbs and releases heat. The north side stays cool and shady. Observe this interplay and use this information to manipulate your planting conditions to more perfectly suit each plant.
Hopefully the few Penstemon species mentioned will tantalize you to consider this genus. You can refer to "Northwest Penstemons," by Dee Strickler (Falcon Publishing, 1997) for incredible pictures, a usable identification key, and habitat descriptions. The American Penstemon Society, 1569 Holland Ct., Lakewood, CO 80232 ($10 membership) and The North American Rock Garden Society, PO Box 67, Millwood, NY 10546 ($25 membership) both offer informative journals and seed exchanges.
It´s that time again when slugs harass local gardeners by rasping round holes in leaves of precious, tender young plants.Why Integrated Slug Management
I don´t indiscriminately scatter granular slug bait with no knowledge of what damage it might do, especially to birds; in fact, I don´t use it at all. Neither do I use a totally environmentally safe slug control method. A garden the size of mine would require unacceptably tedious hours of hand picking slugs at night, or a tremendous number of pie tins filled with beer to drown slugs.
I compromise between what is totally safe and reducing my garden to the size feasible with those methods. I use slug poison, but only in small amounts in my own version of an integrated slug management program. Anticipation of where slug damage is likely to occur, tolerance of a few small holes in leaves in unexpected places, and inspection for damage from time to time, are the method´s cornerstones. And marigold "settingout plants" are my partners.Why Deadline?
I use Deadline, a slug poison in paste form with 4 percent metaldehyde the active ingredient. The label says it will kill children and pets if swallowed. I have neither children still at home, nor pets; my yard is fenced. I feel at ease using Deadline, but only after I made tests lasting several days to determine whether it kills birds. Deadline in recognizable patterns was put out on the backyard sidewalk together with millet and sunflower seeds during bird feeding season. The seeds quickly disappeared but the Deadline remained untouched. I also noticed that neighborhood cats that climb fences continued to harass birds at the feeding station.The Marigold Partners
I set out marigolds at strategic places, especially at the edges of the vegetable garden and flower beds. Marigolds don´t kill slugs or drive them away. Slugs love marigolds and the flowers bring slugs to small amounts of Deadline below.
My dahlia bulbs are planted and are just beginning to crack the earth above. The fresh young shoots will be safe when they appear. Marigolds with Deadline below are already in place nearby and slimy trails indicate that slug control has started.
When peering into the future of privately owned, non-industrial timber operations, the color green emerges as a dominant management tool.
That was the up-beat message during the recent annual meeting of the Washington State Farm Forestry Association with the announcement that three tree-farm owners had won certification under the Green Tag Forest program.
A Green Tag forest is a woodland whose owner demonstrates that he uses good forestry practices in order to assure a balance of natural diversity and sustainable forest productivity.
Or as Nels Hanson, one of those whose tree farms were certified under the Green Tag program said: "So it will be here forever."
Another timber grower earning certification, Dr. Hinton Baker, owner of Snow Mountain Trees in Darrington, agrees.
"The goal is to leave the forest in as good or better condition than you found it," he said. "There´s a lot of satisfaction in that, and that´s why I do it."
An important cornerstone of the program is third-party certification by private foresters using standards approved by the state´s Department of Natural Resources. These standards, which also conform with International Standards Organization´s world standards, were developed by the National Forestry Association in cooperation with individual members of the Association of Consulting Foresters and the National Woodland Owners.
"On-the-ground" examples of those standards include harvesting smaller units when environmentally beneficial, replanting all harvested acreage, protecting streams and wetlands, leaving snags for wildlife, making sure logging roads don´t run silt and sediment into waterways, and providing some diversity of trees.
Timber grower Keith Argow, president of the National Woodland Owners Association and CEO of the National Forestry Association, explained that the purpose of Green Tag certification is to provide private landowners with recognition of their responsible and sustainable stewardship. That, in turn, will hopefully translate into a market premium for "green-certified" forest products in these eco-friendly times.
That economic part of the equation is especially important when considering the future viability of the industry. Just last month, for example, Home Depot sent a letter out to suppliers informing them that the company´s goal was to stock only products made with certified wood.
That´s just one part of the picture.
"We´re operating in a global economy," said Argow, pointing out that European buyers are already showing a willingness to pay a premium for certified wood products.
"We want to be sure that the international markets are accessible to us."
The setting for the ceremony honoring the tree-farm owners whose woodlands had been certified under the Green Tag program was a perfect example of the goals of the program.
There in the midst of towering fir and cedar trees of the Pilchuck Tree Farm, long considered a jewel by foresters around the world, about 60 members of the state organization applauded the trio for a job well done.
Earning certification were the Pilchuck Tree Farm, a large privately owned operation; the Nels Hanson Family Tree Farm, a mid-sized operation; and Snow Mountain Trees, a small-scale operation.
"We haven´t gone broke yet," said a smiling John Hauberg, owner of the Pilchuck Tree Farm, a 50-year operation that consists of approximately 15,000 acres.
Underscoring what the program is all about, he said: "I´m here today to say we want to subscribe to standards as a method of evaluation rather than governmental regulations. We´re willing to be judged on what we do, not what we have to do."
Hanson was also all smiles as he and his son Bill, Bill´s wife Nellie, and his two grandsons Morgan, 17, and Wyatt, 11, were presented with a large Green Tag certification sign.
"We´re the Hanson Family Tree Farm," he said proudly, emphasizing that his timber-growing operation represents three generations of one family involved in managing 600 acres of woodlands in Lewis and Thurston counties.
Before the ceremony, Hanson had emphasized how important sustainability is when it comes to being able to pass tree farms on from one generation to the next.
"We don´t want the industry to keep getting smaller," he said. "With growth encroaching on tree farms in this state, you become more aware of how vulnerable forest land is to being overrun by other activities. That makes you think even more about sustainability."
When Baker took his turn in the limelight, he reminded the audience of the enjoyment that comes with managing woodlands. "We meet the problems and we solve them, and that´s the fun of a tree farm," he said, referring to such challenges as cedar-munching deer and large-leaf maple trees intent on taking over.
Keith Argow, president of the National Woodland Owners Association and CEO of the National Forestry Association, described the recent Green Tag certifications in Washington state as especially good news for the movement as a whole.
It was only last summer that the first Green Tag forest was certified in Oregon. Since then woodlands in nine other states, including Washington, have, been certified under the Green Tag program. As of March, there was a total of 23,875 acres of certified woodlands in nine states. Washington´s recent entries, which mark the 25th through the 27th certification, boosts that acreage even higher.Here are some of the standards used in evaluating Green Tag forests:
The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County have long talked about developing a point destination and tourist attraction to benefit our region. But what should this be? A conference center? Amusement Park? The Northwest Discovery Project believes that it should be a place that will benefit the residents of this area, explore the best assets of our region (our environment), and promote stewardship of our resources while attracting tourist dollars to our economy. The Northwest Discovery Project has been working on the idea of an environmental education center for several years. This center is now being called the Northwest Discovery Center.Northwest Discovery Center
The Northwest Discovery Center will be a premier educational attraction focusing on the whole ecology of our region--from Mount Baker down to Bellingham Bay and beyond. Through living exhibits, engaging displays, hand-on activities and demonstrations, the Discovery Center will provide visitors of all ages and abilities the opportunity to explore the connections between our community and the natural environment. Exhibits will explore the ecosystems of the mountain, forest, lake, river, lake, estuary, island, and the workings of our city.
The project is currently in the concept plan stage. Funds to write the concept plan were received from the City of Bellingham Lodging Tax Fund. The concept plan includes conceptual design, marketing study, economic analysis and funding strategy, and is expected to be completed in early this summer.
The Northwest Discovery Project also operates the Marine Life Center, coordinates educational trips for students aboard the MV Snow Goose, and is co-coordinating the Walk for Wildlife with RE Sources.Marine Life Center
The Marine Life Center is located at Harbor Center, 1801 Roeder Avenue in Bellingham. Three large aquariums, a touch tank, and a 1,000 gallon observation tank are all stocked with a rich variety of local sea life, providing an exciting and informative glimpse into the abundant life that fronts our shores. The center is open daily to the public without charge. Over 50,000 people visit the Marine Life Center each year.M.V. Snowgoose
The M.V. Snowgoose is a 65-foot marine research vessel offering hands-on experience in marine science to students from grades three to twelve in the Whatcom County area. Staff works with teachers to design a program combining individual curricular needs with on-going program activities. Over 300 students in the last year have benefited from this opportunity to work with experienced marine biologists in the field, and to connect that work with their classroom activities.Walk for Wildlife
The Walk for Wildlife is a pledge-walk to raise money for six different wildlife projects sponsored by local non-profit groups. The Walk was held last month, on May 15, beginning at Maritime Heritage Park Amphitheater and continuing on Bellingham´s scenic waterfront and wooded trails to Boulevard Park, Fairhaven Park, Arroyo Park and back.
The wildlife projects benefiting from the walk include Chuckanut Biodiversity Project (Wildlife Conservation Trust), Loomis Forest Fund (Northwest Ecosystem Alliance), Northwest Discovery Center (Northwest Discovery Project), Scudder Pond Wildlife Enhancement (North Cascades Audubon Society), Injured Wildlife Rehabilitation (Sardis Wildlife Rehabilitation Center), Water WEB (RE Sources).
The Walk for Wildlife was coordinated by the Northwest Discovery Project and RE Sources. If you missed the walk and would like to donate to the Walk for Wildlife Project call RE Sources at (360) 733-8307.Our mission is:
To awaken wonder, inform and promote stewardship of this region´s environment through engaging exhibits, public education and wildlife rehabilitation.
For more information call Michael Burnett, Executive Director, (360) 384-5440.
The Northwest Discovery Project is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) environmental education organization.
The Shangri-La Syndrome takes its name from "Lost Horizon," one of the best movies of all time. It has a great romantic story and the lead role is superbly played by Ronald Coleman. Moreover, it dramatizes one of the great truths about humanity: "wishful thinking." In the final scene after Coleman had left civilization to re-find Shangri La, his friends sat discussing whether he would succeed. The movie ended with a friend saying, "I believe because I want to believe."
Watch out for the Shangri La Syndrome on the part of even fair-minded people when the environmental impact statement on the Bellingham Bay Cleanup is released to the public toward the end of June.Pressure to Compromise
Now that Governor Gary Locke has vetoed House Bill 1448, the Bellingham Bay Cleanup bill, there will have to be compromises or the Governor will sign a similar bill a year from now. Then Jennifer Belcher, the head of the Department of Natural Resources, would lose her mandate to manage state tidelands.
The Governor´s veto has not changed much except to increase pressure to compromise. There are still two camps, money on one side, safe disposal of sediments contaminated by very toxic mercury on the other. Jennifer Belcher still heads the safe toxic waste disposal camp.The Disingenuous
Not much has been heard on money itself from people in the money crowd, but there can be no doubt that money is the crux of their private discussions. The kindest thing I can say is that they have not been forthright. Consider this candid statement in support of HB 1448, the cleanup bill, that I received privately from one of our legislators. (Note that I heard nothing from Kelli Linville).
"I want the Bellingham Bay shipping channel cleared of mercury contaminated sediments while Georgia Pacific is still around to pay for it."
That statement is worth thinking about, but the money crowd does not say it in public. Instead, they tend to be disingenuous about both the process of disposal site selection and the merits of the cheapest site which they think could be covered by Georgia Pacific´s ability to pay.
Consider this recent conversation I had with one of the money crowd.
"Governor Gary Locke has vetoed the HB 1448 cleanup bill, but Jennifer Belcher still controls the tidelands. There will have to be a compromise," I ventured.
"No. All options are open," he countered. "The Bellingham Bay Cleanup group is making progress and each of the options will be discussed in the Environmental Impact Statement that will be out in June. You would be interested in a copy."
"But isn´t the cost of hauling the toxic sediments to a land fill in Oregon an unrealistic option?" I asked.
"Yes," he agreed. "It is." One option gone and more to go.
"Aren´t we really talking about toxic waste disposal in the tidelands?" I questioned.
"Well, yes," he replied.
"And aren´t we really talking about money versus site selection?" I asked.
He did not answer that question. Instead he began talking about the merits of raising eel grass on the cap over toxic sediments buried in shallow water near shore in order to aid salmon recovery. I was prepared for the Shangri La Syndrome and ended the conversation with no further discussion.The Eel Grass Scam
Eel grass is dying out all along our coastline. What would make anyone think it would grow better in Bellingham Bay? Why would it grow better at an artificial site than at places where it once grew naturally but has since disappeared? Is not the proposal for eel grass on capped buried toxic wastes in Bellingham Bay based on the Shangri La Syndrome of "wishful thinking?"
We need a place for safe disposal for mercury contaminated sediments for at least one hundred years. Yes, cost cannot be ignored. But supporting a site with an argument that completely lacks credibility should have no part in site selection. One hundred years really is shorter than some of the Baby Boomers and Generation X think. I´d wager that a number of them are much more likely to live to be 100 years of age than significant eel grass will grow in Bellingham Bay in their lifetimes.
Mitigation of environmental problems is the snake oil of the last quarter of the 20th century. That modern snake oil is much beloved by politicians and developers alike until their pet project is approved; then they lose interest. Establishing a new habitat for plants can be incredibly difficult. Most mitigation projects fail to "restore" the plant habitat and environment that was destroyed.The Environmental Impact Statement: What to Look For
When you examine the Bellingham Bay Cleanup Environmental Impact Statement, beware of rationalizations that smack of the Shangri La Syndrome. I suggest considering the geology pertaining to permanence of the site. Would the site be eroded by waves or currents or would the toxic sediments become even more deeply buried by the load of sediments brought into the bay by the Nooksack River?
Would the bottom profile of equilibrium be maintained, or would the bottom slope be increased? No one knows exactly where a deep earthquake fault might occur. However, we do know that sliding in soft sediments is more likely where the gradient of the bottom profile is steeper. Consider the process of transferring the mercury-contaminated sediments; prefer a process that spreads the least mercury all over the place. Importantly, carefully consider the potential effects of earthquakes.Earthquakes: Will One Occur?
Earthquakes were known to humanity for thousands of years, but a fundamental cause was not understood. A breakthrough in understanding occurred about four score years ago when a German geographer by the name of Wegner noticed that the Atlantic coastline of Africa and South America fitted neatly together and he postulated continental drift. He was roundly ridiculed because geologists did not understand the process. But he was right; a major continent split, and as the crack widened, the Atlantic Ocean was formed.
The next breakthrough occurred after World War II when voluminous pertinent United States Navy data were released to civilian scientists. Scientific research of the Atlantic Ocean bottom was further expedited by the Cold War when the United States Government funded millions of dollars of research as a cover for a secret attempt to raise a USSR submarine sunk in the ocean. Scientists now know a great deal.
Modern scientists have renamed the geological process plate tectonics. We do not need to know all the details to take a position on this question: Is a significant earthquake here likely within what should be the life of a mercury dump in Bellingham Bay tidelands?
It is important to know that Wegner is correct and the North and South American continents are sliding over the Pacific plate. Consider an analogy to sliding a piece of orange skin over the orange. If you create a gap in the skin on one side, you must slide the skin over skin still in place on the other side.
As the result of the movement of continents, there are earthquakes, volcanoes, and all manner of deformation of the earth´s crust along the coastal region from Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south. We have had strong earthquakes here. Is Bellingham Bay now miraculously immune, or is a severe earthquake here as certain as death and taxes?Tsunami Potential for Earthquake Damage
A direct hit by an "earthquake fault" on a toxic waste dump is improbable. However, two effects of an earthquake in the general area of a toxic waste dump in Belllingham tidelands could be disastrous. One is a tsunami; the other is rupture resulting from shaking and sliding.
"Tsunami" is a Japanese word translated as "harbor wave," a word now widely used for monster waves in shallow water. Tsunamis usually are generated by undersea earthquakes as distinguished from waves generated by winds and tides. Tsunamis 100 feet high have occurred, but typical disastrous tsunamis have been on the order of 20 to 40 feet high.
The Cascadia subduction zone, the place where the Pacific plate dives under the advancing North American continental plate, has a high potential for generating tsunamis. "At least one segment (of that zone) may be approaching the end of a seismic cycle that culminates in an earthquake and a destructive tsunami." Earthquake danger has "about a 35 percent probability of occurrence before (year) 2045." (Gonzalez, 1999)
Islands offshore may protect the mainland shore of Bellingham Bay; however, tsunamis are known to have bent around obstacles and remained destructive. Threats to specific coastal areas can be assessed by state-of-the-art computer modeling. Some maps of potential threats to Washington are in progress, but none is currently available.
"Brian F. Atwater of the United States Geological Survey has identified sand and gravel deposits that he hypothesized were carried inland from the Washington coast by tsunamis born of Cascadia quakes. Recent events support this theory." The quotations above are from "Tsunami Predicting," by Frank Gonzalez, Scientific American, May, 1999.
The greatest tsunami damage is near shore. Is that where we want mercury to be dumped?Sliding and Rumpling by Earthquakes
Other than a tsunami, the most likely damage to a shoreline toxic waste dump in Bellingham Bay would result from sliding and rumpling.
Stability of hard rock in contrast to instability of soft sediments is part of the wisdom of the ages. When the freeway and homes built over fill in San Francisco collapsed as the result of an earthquake, I was concerned about the safety of a geologist and lifelong friend who retired there. However, he seemed annoyed by my phone call. Didn´t I know that he knew better than buy a house built on fill?
An earthquake shakes soft sediments like a bowl of jello. Tip the bowl a little as you shake and the jello will slide or crumple. Likewise, build a toxic waste dump near shore that increases the bottom gradient on the seaward side and you have increased the potential for sliding during an earthquake. In view of the area´s potential for earthquakes, that does not assure a safe waste dump.
At press time, the draft environmental impact statement for the cleanup of the contaminated sediments in Bellingham Bay was due out in mid-June. Release of the draft environmental impact statement has been delayed for months as the agencies involved try to navigate the murky waters of consensus planning. Assuming that they may meet this target date, the draft should be out on the streets soon.
This is an important time for the public to renew its interest in the cleanup as this may well be the last opportunity to weigh in on this matter. The draft environmental impact statement reviews six alternatives ranging from no action to full removal and upland disposal of most of the contaminated sediment. The various alternatives will include a variety of options including confined aquatic disposal of sediments, habitat enhancement, and deepening of existing navigation channels to allow for deep water vessel traffic.Citizen Action Training
To encourage public comment on the draft environmental impact statement, RE Sources is sponsoring a two-part citizen action training. During the first training night, the cleanup planning process will be reviewed and the draft environmental impact statement will be introduced. Then, participants will have a week to study the sections of interest to them and the group will meet again to review each alternative in more detail and begin drafting comments. Pending a formal announcement of the release, RE Sources has tentatively scheduled two training dates, both Wednesday evenings: July 14 and 21, from 7-9 p.m. each night. The groups will meet at the RE Store, 600 West Holly Street in Bellingham. Contact Robyn du Pré at RE Sources for details or to register.Water Quality Cruise
Additionally, RE Sources is sponsoring a Water Quality Cruise aboard the Island Caper with a focus on the cleanup on August 3, 6:30 - 9:30 p.m. Cruise cost is $10 for RE Sources members, and $15 for non-members. Reservations are available by calling RE Sources at 733-8307.
Lastly, The Bellingham Bay Pilot Work Group will be hosting an open house meeting when the impact statement is released. A date for this event has not been announced. To be placed on the list to receive a meeting date announcement, contact Mike Stoner at the Port of Bellingham, 676-2500.
The Whatcom County Planning Commission meeting on May 27, 1999 somewhat clarified the mystery reason for calling a hearing on limiting Cherry Point tideland development to a single additional pier (now and forever, it seems) in spite of two valid applications by companies still interested.
Jennifer Belcher, head of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, has final control of development on state tidelands. She sent a communication to the Whatcom County Council suggesting limiting development offshore at Cherry Point to one more pier. The County Council nibbled at what seems to be compromise bait; it passed the matter to the County Planning Department. The department in turn, passed the issue to the County Planning Commission by making a dutiful presentation in support of the one-pier proposal. The planning department offered a complex proposal that I understand was intended to circumvent the two valid permit applications by allowing them to expire.Why the One-Pier Hearing
In response, several members of the planning commission questioned whether the county´s de facto choice would be one pier or no pier. No one knew the answer, but the Planning Department pointed out that Belcher has the final authority to approve piers in the tidelands. Moreover, it said she is an elected state official with strong political support among voters in the Seattle area, the major population center in Washington State. The unstated inference was that she could do what she wants to do. One was left thinking that the County Council passed the one-pier proposal to the County Planning Department to test the water.
The evident frustration of both commission and department appears to be in tune with that of the County Council and some other politicians. They seem to feel it is unfair that people of Washington State can control the tidelands that they own, while tideland´s neighbors, who at best own a miniscule share, cannot do what they want with the property they do not own.Defenders of the Environment
Joanne Ferringer, speaking on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/ Whatcom County, stated this: "When the need is proven for another deep water port on the west coast and Cherry Point is determined to be the best location, then we support development of no more than one additional pier at Cherry Point."
In essence, Jennifer Belcher seems to be considering the policy the League of Women Voters already had taken last year.
Dave Schmalz, speaking for the North Cascades Audubon Society, the other Cherry Point watch dog, closely reiterated the League of Women Voters´ lead. He clearly stated that the chapter does not propose a single pier, but if there is development on the Cherry Point tidelands, no more than one additional pier should be built.Legal Anchor Dragging
The county´s legal counsel appeared to be outside the County Council-County Planning loop. He dragged anchor on the one-pier proposal to test the waters in the Cherry Point tidelands by questioning the wording of the proposal, and especially whether construction on the Cherry Point tidelands could be legally restricted to one more pier forever and ever.Gone to The Dogs
The hearing seemed endless, but fortunately tension for some and tedium for others was relieved when the meeting literally went to the dogs. Well, really only one dog, a large, beautiful, friendly German Shepherd. Smiling and wagging its tail, it paraded up to the commission members and left. They took the doggie hint that the hour was late, summarized requests of the planning department for more information, voted to continue the one-pier limitation issue on June 24, and adjourned. Stay tuned.Beyond the One-Pier
The one-pier Cherry Point meeting had been a free-flowing, open discussion, and as the public left, the commission members remained still arguing their positions. As for me, I was left pondering how different the proceedings that night had been from those at the last County Planning Commission hearing I had attended. At that hearing on zoning in the Gateway area near the Bellingham Airport, I found the commission members inattentive to oral testimony, unfamiliar with written public testimony, and they even rejected an opportunity to read it completely. The situation gave the impression that their decisions had long since been made and they wanted to go home.
Was the contrast simply a difference in the level of interest in the subjects, or did the de facto power in county government know what it wanted at Gateway but was undecided at Cherry Point where Jennifer Belcher could sink county action.?
Trillium Corporation´s proposal that its 5 acre quarry serving logging roads be expanded to a 55 acre commercial quarry, producing up to 750,000 tons annually (over 32,500 truckloads,) has local residents deeply concerned with pipeline safety. The quarry is located just over a mile north of the Nugent´s Corner intersection of Highways 9 & 542 and just east of Siper Road.
Two natural gas pipelines run on the west slope just below the proposed quarry. The west section has been rerouted/replaced due to the February ´97 explosion caused by land movement. The quarry is 700 feet from this section. All truck traffic will cross this section daily.
The pipeline on the steep slope below the quarry was not replaced. The 26 inch line was installed in 1956. It is now 43 years old. According to Dennis Lloyd, Pipeline Safety Engineer of the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, "Generally, pipelines last 50 years." (The Bellingham Herald, February 12, 1997). This aging pipeline is very vulnerable, even without the stress of heavy industrial activity occurring right above it.
Current Federal Regulations require Williams Corporation to replace this older 26 inch line whenever the population reaches "urban densities." This means that government officials recognize this aging line is a risk to surrounding residents. Yet because we are a low-density area, Williams is not required to replace this line.
Since 1994, nine ruptures/leaks or explosions have occurred in Washington and Idaho on older sections of Williams Corporation line. (None has occurred with newer lines.) Five of those ruptures or explosions have happened in the past two years. Most of these ruptures have been caused by the same factors which caused the explosion in our neighborhood: heavy rains producing land movement that put too much stress on the older line.
One explosion in particular relates closely to the proposed quarry. On March 16, 1995, the older 26 inch line ruptured and exploded near Castle Rock, Washington. The cause was listed as shifting ground on a "nearby hillside." According to an article in the Longview Daily News,(June 9, 1995), "Rain, dumping of dirt, and logging have been cited as possible causes of the shifting ground.... The hill above the blast was recently clear-cut and used as a dumping ground for highway fill.... A company working for the Department of Transportation on construction of Spirit Lake Memorial Highway dumped nearly 140,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock above the pipeline."
Does this seem similar to the local ´97 event and the proposed quarry? Only six months of construction activity caused the Castle Rock slope to slide. Imagine 28 years of heavy mining on the slope right above our aging local line!
We are already living next to a hazard. Adding this quarry will seriously increase the risk of another rupture to the aging pipeline. It will endanger the safety of all residents living nearby.
|Year 1||50,000 tons||8 times more activity|
|Year 5||200,000 tons||28 times more activity|
|Year 10||500,000 tons||71 times more activity|
|Year 20||675,000 tons||96 times more activity|
|Year 28||750,000 tons||107 times more activity|
Based on 23 tons per truck and 240 day per year work schedule and a 10 hour day (taken from the permit application), the trucks per day and per hour are listed below. Since trucks must enter and exit the mine, per day/hour figure was multiplied by 2.
per day x 2
per hour x 2
|50,000||2,175||18||1.8 /hr. (1 every 33 mins)|
|200,000||8,696||72||7.2 /hr. (1 every 8 mins.)|
|500,000||21,739||181||18.0 /hr. (1 every 3+ mins.)|
|675,000||29,348||245||25.0 /hr. (1 every 2+ mins.)|
|750,000||32,609||272||27.0 /hr. (1 every 2+ mins.)|
|Guy St John||592-2292|
Senator Slade Gorton´s political maneuvering to attach a mining rider on the Emergency Funding bill for hurricane victims and to fund the war in Kosovo, has inspired a national uproar. The rider exempts the controversial gold mine that Battle Mountain Gold Company of Houston, Texas, wants to develop on Buckhorn Mountain in the Okanogan Highlands of North Central Washington from the current Federal Mining Law.
The Okanogan Highlands Alliance, a public interest organization, has extensively studied the technical aspects of this mine and the laws and has concluded that the risk to public health, safety and the environment is neither worth the risk nor legal. If the mine could pass all the laws and permit regulations, it might be allowed to go forward, but Battle Mountain Gold Company has continually used its wealth and influence to create access to the political process and has gained exceptions to the laws. This political maneuver by Senator Gorton for a special favors for Battle Mountain Gold Company, another in a long series of exemptions, shows that the mine could not pass legal scrutiny.
The Forest Service´s approval of the mine was based on the premise that Battle Mountain Gold Company had valid mining claims. Before the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service could approve a plan of operations for the mine project, the Department of Interior had to examine the validity of the mining claims. The plan submitted by the Battle Mountain Gold Company was clearly over the legal limit of mill sites. A company is allowed up to five acres of land for mill and waste facilities for each 20 acre mining claim. Battle Mountain Gold Company´s project uses 115 millsite for 15 mining claims, over the limit by about 500 acres. The Interior and Agriculture Departments had no choice but to deny the Plan of Operation.
For Battle Mountain to cry crocodile tears and ask favors of congress is indefensible. Feigned ignorance of the law is not a defense. Battle Mountain Gold Company does not need emergency relief. They should obey the law, like everyone else. Too often corporations are treated with deference, and because of the power and influence they wield, they are able to mobilize institutions as commanding as Congress.
Slade Gorton went to Interior and he went to Bureau of Land Management. He asked for a special way around the 1872 mining law for Battle Mountain Gold Company, which for over 125 years, paved the way for the development of mining in the West., The company didn´t happen to like this clause; could they kindly get around it? Apparently when the agencies didn´t think Battle Mountain Gold Company should have the privilege of breaking the law, legislation by fiat became the mode of the day.
Senator Gorton, who is reported to have received over 144 thousand dollars in campaign contributions from mining and oil interests, enters the picture, with the intent to subvert implementation of the millsite limitation of the 1872 Mining Law for Battle Mountain Gold Company through a special dispensation from Congress. With the mining industry, he crafted a political solution, behind closed doors so as not to raise a lot of attention.
Gorton´s initial rider would have also changed the mining law to eliminate this millsite provision completely. The conference committee rejected this because it was too far reaching and because most members agreed that reform of the law should be done with open public debate. So Gorton, surrounded by mining industry lobbyists, scrambled to write a more limited exemption, just for Battle Mountain Gold Company, that was approved in the late hours of the conference committee.
Attaching riders to special legislation such as the Kosovo/Hurricane Relief special appropriations bill is unconscionable. The thought that laws do not have to be made in an open forum, but are concocted in the back rooms and through the influence of special interest groups is repugnant.
There has been a groundswell of outrage at Gorton´s back room deal to exempt Battle Mountain Gold from one of the few limitations in the 1872 mining law. Many Representatives in Congress and Gary Locke Governor of Washington have spoken out against this pollution of the emergency funding bill.
Gorton´s contempt for the laws that protect the environment and fair, open political process are exemplified in his back room political maneuvering for a single multinational gold corporation. How much longer will Congress, the President and the American people put up with this type of special interest corporate privilege, tipping the scales of justice?For information, you may contact:
Okanogan Highlands Alliance
PO Box 163
Tonasket, WA 98855
phone/fax (509) 485-3361
A law written by miners, for miners, is used against them
At 5,600 feet, Buckhorn Mountain rises above the Okanogan Highlands, its fir and larch forests extending past Washington state and into Canada. It is not truly wild since a few roads cross it and mining claims were worked long ago, but it has not been clear-cut or pocked by the kinds of mines that leave enduring scars.
Now the mountain has new significance: It has set off a struggle over the future of hardrock mining on public land in the United States. That struggle seems to have taken almost everyone by surprise.
Until a few weeks ago, the Texas-based Battle Mountain Gold Co., along with its partner, Crown Resources, was well on its way to digging a 116-acre open-pit gold mine on the flanks of Buckhorn Mountain, where a deposit of gold worth almost $500 million lies buried. The company had run the regulatory gantlet and then fended off three lawsuits filed by the Colville Confederated Tribes and the nonprofit Okanogan Highlands Alliance (High County News, 8/31/98).
So, while the alliance had not given up hope of stopping the mine at the last minute, the company was finally ready to start construction, eight years behind schedule.Not So Fast
Then, on March 25, the federal government told Battle Mountain Gold that it was halting the Crown Jewel Mine. In a five-page letter, the departments of Agriculture and Interior wrote that the mine´s waste rock piles would sprawl across more land than the 1872 Mining Law allows.
Under the law, Interior says, the company´s 10 public land mining claims would entitle it to a maximum of 50 acres in mill-site claims, or five acres for each mining claim, rather than the 585 acres (117 mill sites) it had claimed. Mill-site claims are sought for storing waste rock and for siting the giant steel vats the Crown Jewel Mine would use to leach gold from crushed ore.
When the law was written 127 years ago, the technology of the day allowed for the mining of only the richest ore deposits, and mines weren´t large by today´s standards. But with the advent of large, open-pit copper and gold mines in the early 1980s, mining companies can profitably mine and refine ore containing as little as five-hundredths of an ounce of gold per ton. This produces far more waste rock than the authors of the mining law ever imagined and the mill site limitations effectively ban large, open pit mines like the Crown Jewel.
The Bureau of Land Management has ignored this proviso in a sort of gentlemen´s agreement with the mining industry. But with the Crown Jewel Mine, the Department of the Interior announced that it intends to start enforcing the law, which allows one 5-acre mill site for every claim.
The first sign that strict enforcement of the law was on the way came in 1997, when Interior issued a legal memorandum to one of its agencies, the BLM. This statement, signed by Solicitor John Leshy and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, pointed out that the mill site provisions of the 1872 Mining Law "have fallen totally out of step with the times ..."
The mining industry immediately criticized the 11th-hour mining law interpretation as bad government. Why, they wondered, hadn´t the government issued this ruling before Battle Mountain Gold had spent almost a decade and $80 million pursing a raft of permits?
"It´s just too late in the process to change the rules," says Richard Harris, a Reno, Nev., mining attorney.
The Department of Interior argues that the industry has known about the provision in the law for many years.
In Washington state and across the West, anti-mining activists rallied around what they called the first chink in the impenetrable armor of the archaic mining law.
"I´ve always believed this mine was against the law," says David Kliegman, a 46-year-old woodworker who leads the Okanogan Highlands Alliance. He adds that the victory, however sweet, may be temporary because what began as a grassroots fight in an obscure mountain range has made its way to the halls of Congress.
"Actually, we´ve got a much bigger fight on our hands: Now we´re up against the National Mining Association," Kliegman says. "But we definitely knocked them a good one."It´s a National Debate
The new interpretation of the powerful century-old law is the latest effort to reform the nation´s mining industry. It follows Interior Secretary Babbitt´s failed attempts in 1993 to reform the Mining Law by requiring mining companies to pay 12 percent royalties on the value of the minerals it mined on public lands. The Department of the Interior also tried to impose a strict reclamation-bond requirement on mines on public land, but the mining industry convinced a court to void the requirement.
Babbitt has had some success. By charging a $100 maintenance fee on all mining claims beginning in 1993, the Interior Department convinced miners to drop 500,000 mining claims. About 500,000 remain. The department also withdrew Montana´s Rocky Mountain Front from all mineral development and bought out mineral rights at the controversial New World Mine near Yellowstone National Park.
Though an overall approach to amending the 1872 law has failed, says Alan Septoff of the Washington, D.C.-based Mineral Policy Center, "We´ve been successful in nibbling around the edges." Now, many hope the recent mill site interpretation will force the industry to admit that the mining law needs reform: For the first time, a law written by miners, for miners, has failed them.The Battle Over Crown Jewel
Mining industry attorney Richard Harris says that local BLM offices have regularly approved mine projects that violated the one mine claim-to-one mill site ratio. BLM policy manuals written as recently as 1991 state, "There is no limit to the number of mill sites that can be held by a single claimant."
While this ignores the ratio spelled out in the 1872 Mining Law, Harris says it is a "practice widely recognized and widely respected."
"In effect, the government entered into a contract. Now, with Mr. Leshy´s one-to-one ratio, that contract has been broken," Harris says. "Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Leshy have been unable to enact their mining reforms through the front door and they reverted to what I call back-door practices. I see this as part of a larger strategy on the part of the Secretary of the Interior to restrict and minimize mining development in the United States."
The administrative ruling is expected to affect three other open-pit mines now planned in Arizona and California: The Yarnell gold mine near Yarnell, Ariz.; the Carlota copper mine near Miami, Ariz.; and the Imperial Project gold mine in the desert of California´s Imperial Valley.
Roger Flynn, an attorney runs the nonprofit Western Mining Action Project, says that even with the new tool, he´ll limit his battles to mines in the works. "I have no intention of using the mill-site decision on an existing mine. I can´t guarantee that others won´t," he says. "We have no intention of shutting down the mining industry."
While mining industry representatives say the one-to-one rule took them by surprise, the Glamis Imperial Corp. seemed well prepared. The company remapped its claims, "slicing and dicing" 46 claims into 187 claims. Many of these redrawn claims measure less than a half acre in size. Environmentalists call this a ploy to steal public land.
Roger Flynn, who is representing the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club in a fight over the Imperial Project mine, says the Glamis Imperial Corp. strategy won´t work and promises to sue Interior if the mine is allowed to proceed.
"Why would Congress put in a mill site limit if you could file a bunch of itty-bitty claims? Obviously, that´s not what Congress wanted."
Flynn adds that the companies have long known about the potential conflict between the mining law and the acreage limits on public land.
"The mining company attorney should have known this. They never thought that (the Interior Department) would use it against them," Flynn says. "They were arrogant."You can contact...
The March, 1997, issue of Whatcom Watch contained an article about a proposed gold mine. Excerpts from that article which provide background information are printed below.
The Battle Mountain Gold Company of Houston has proposed a 700-acre gold mine on top of Buckhorn Mountain in the Okanogan Highlands of North-central Washington. The mine would include a 117-acre open pit that would sink 900 feet deep--that´s 450 feet below the water table; two waste rock stockpiles covering 244 total acres; and a 90 acre tailings pond. The project would destroy a square mile of public land and take about 10 years including; one year of construction, eight years of mining, and one year of reclamation. Reclamation would leave the northern portion of the mine pit to fill and allow the creation of a toxic lake.
Given the semi-arid condition of much of the Okanogan Highlands, water is an especially precious commodity. Local residents have looked into acquiring new water rights for their family farms and have been told repeatedly that there are no new water rights to be had. The creeks are already over-appropriated and in-stream flows for the fisheries need the water. Then along comes Battle Mountain Gold Company, a large multinational corporation, with a geared-up public relations and political lobby machine, requesting more water than many of the large farms combined. Battle Mountain Gold Company has bought agricultural rights and attempted to transfer them to industrial use.
They have applied for new water rights and they also plan to use spring freshet (water flowing into the sea) and store it in a reservoir. They should not! The Washington State Department of Ecology has repeatedly told Battle Mountain Gold Company that as it stands now, their water rights applications will be denied.
Twin waste-rock piles over seven-hundred-feet tall would loom on the east side of Buckhorn posing the long-term threat of acid-mine drainage. The problems go on and on. Battle Mountain Gold Company wants to blast apart Eden for gold. The company can´t restore the mountain, aquifers, and streams to health when they are done. Much of what they are planning to do would be permanent.