Skagit River Alliance: Anything Short of a Full Study of These Impacts Would Undermine SEPA’s Purpose

Skagit River Alliance: Anything Short of a Full Study of These Impacts Would Undermine SEPA’s Purpose

Here is the formal response by Skagit River Alliance to a recent letter from a law firm representing Kiewit Infrastructure Company relative to its application for a special use permit from Skagit County to develop a quarry mine near Marblemount. The attorney letter basically dismisses everything that’s been submitted to Skagit County regarding this matter by citizens and concerned organizations throughout our region. There is almost total opposition to the application, with most opponents saying that an Environmental Impact Statement is necessary for a proposed project of this magnitude. This letter was signed by Jose Vila, President of Skagit River Alliance. Mr. Vila is a resident of Marblemount.

We agree with the county’s intent to issue a Determination of Significance based upon the substantial detrimental impacts that would be caused by Kiewit’s proposed operation. Anything short of a full study of these impacts would undermine SEPA’s purpose to fully understand and protect against a project’s otherwise significant environmental impacts.

Dear Mr. Hart and Mr. Cooper,

After reading the July 3, 2019 letter from Kiewit Infrastructure Co.’s attorney Jonathan K. Sitkin, Skagit River Alliance decided it was important to respond due to Mr Sitkin’s further advancement of an apparent tactic in Kiewit’s application documents of misleading, misstating, and omitting information necessary for an accurate SEPA threshold determination. Kiewit seems intent to avoid at all costs the thorough and necessary review that would be afforded by an EIS. 

We agree with the county’s intent to issue a Determination of Significance based upon the substantial detrimental impacts that would be caused by Kiewit’s proposed operation. Anything short of a full study of these impacts would undermine SEPA’s purpose to fully understand and protect against a project’s otherwise significant environmental impacts.

The SEPA material submitted by Kiewit fails to adequately address, or in many cases even identify, many project activities and impacts. Expecting the county to make a list of these errors and omissions seems improper and overly burdensome. One need only review the hundreds of comments that were submitted by very thoughtful and qualified organizations and individuals to get a sense of the inadequacy of Kiewit’s submission materials.

The SEPA rules put the burden on the applicant to produce a thorough and complete proposal and evaluate the likely environmental impacts of that proposal, so it seems that Kiewit should either be required to resubmit a complete and accurate application, or Skagit County should require a fully scoped EIS for the current application. In either case Kiewit would need to provide a complete plan and details of all their requested activities and operations such as a complete hauling plan including downriver haul routes, and material, staging, loading, and barging, which we are left to assume is Kiewit’s intent. Or why has Kiewit not provided a complete operations plan for the 13 – 28 acres of contaminated waste rock or tailings that would be stacked hundreds of feet high on the proposed mining area. Plans, logistics, safety, and environmental impacts need to be addressed for this part of the proposed operation that would account for more than 80% of the material that Kiewit would extract from the mountain. Thoughtful comments pointed out many more examples that should be addressed in an EIS.

In this letter Kiewit’s attorney also throws out a $25 million dollar number of local wages and services. Kiewit must provide a full economic impact study that establishes this conclusion. As many commenters stated, this project would be a job killer. This project would destroy the local tourism and recreation economy. This project would not benefit Skagit County; this project would be a great cost to Skagit County. In any case, Kiewit’s number is meaningless out of context and without a full study of benefits and impacts including property devaluation, job loss, revenue loss, health costs, pollution costs, and infrastructure repair costs due to high loads and heavy wear. Kiewit’s ongoing tactic of throwing out incomplete and false information only reinforces the conclusion that an EIS is needed.

It is disappointing that Kiewit’s attorney has taken such a dismissive attitude to the huge volume of comments properly submitted under the SEPA process.

It is disappointing that Kiewit’s attorney has taken such a dismissive attitude to the huge volume of comments properly submitted under the SEPA process. Most of these comments were in fact substantive and raise legitimate technical concerns or identify activities or impacts that were not addressed by the studies. The fact that Kiewit seems either unwilling or unable to address any and all legitimate concerns regarding their proposed operation is another clear indication that an EIS is necessary. 

It is also disappointing that Kiewit’s attorney seems to be taking a threatening posture towards the county. The county has been carefully following the code process as required and Kiewit must not be allowed to skirt the process no matter how many threats they or their attorneys make. It is difficult to understand this behavior towards Skagit County and so many concerned groups and citizens that Kiewit proposes to work with for such a long time.

To the three technical studies that Kiewit’s attorney addresses: 

(1) Asbestos in Shuksan greenschist: asbestos is known to be a basic component of this material. Kiewit’s attorney is implying that Kiewit has an incomplete understanding of the very specific material that they are targeting for extraction. This defies belief. The only possible explanation for Kiewit’s position is that they do not want to address this issue.

(2) Birds and wildlife: we look forward to a thorough environmental study of the mine’s impacts on birds and wildlife. 

(3) Tribal consultation: We understand from communications with tribal representatives that Kiewit has not, in fact, consulted with them and addressed their concerns. We are also familiar with the many concerns that tribal communities voiced in their comments about the mine, including the need for an EIS. If however Kiewit has conducted the consultations they refer to, we request that the written evidence of those efforts be posted online with the other application materials.

Finally, the omission of the permit issuance threshold zoning issue from Mr Sitkin’s letter speaks volumes. As noted in our comment letter and numerous others, Kiewit’s requested mining use is not currently allowed on all the parcels identified for mining operations. Further, based upon the zoning and permit application process it is difficult to see how Kiewit’s application could even be subject to review prior to the proper request and approval of the necessary zoning revisions. Is this being addressed and posted in a separate area from the SEPA checklist and other permit applications? We would appreciate and we request an update on this issue. Please reference the May 11, 2019 Loring Advising letter sent to you on behalf of Skagit River Alliance.

Thanks for your consideration, we appreciate all the hard work by county staff who continue to invest in a review process consistent with our local codes and the interests of our community. We look forward to being updated as this process moves forward.

Respectfully,

Jose M Vila

Skagit River Alliance 

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