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Residents rally to fight proposal
GREENBANK Neighbors of Rempel Brothers Concrete, Inc. are protesting the companys proposed expansion of mining operations.
Residents of the Wildwoodview Acres neighborhood south of Ledgewood Beach warn the proposed 100-acre gravel pit could contaminate the aquifer that supplies drinking water. They are also angry that Island County told nearby property owners about the proposal during a long holiday break, giving residents little time to respond to the companys application for the pit.
One of the problems I have with this application is how in the world are we, as a community, supposed to get together, go to the county, review a 6-inch thick file, try to get copies and try to understand whats going on? asked Marcia Comer, a neighbor to the gravel pit property.
I personally called the county, left messages and never talked to a human and asked questions that I wanted to ask, she said.
Rempel Brothers has operated a surface mine in the area since 1992 and will soon run out of material, said company president David Walden.
The property Rempel Brothers now wants to mine was once a forest; 100 acres of the 187-acre property were logged in 1998 but never replanted.
Comer and fellow Wildwoodview Acres residents, who border the companys land on Ellwood Drive, said they were notified of the gravel pit proposal on
Nov. 21, the day before a long holiday weekend. The letter gave them 10 days to send their responses back to the county.
The application also indicated that the county expected to issue a determination of non-significance, which means an extensive study called an environmental impact statement would not be conducted on the proposal.
Rob Hetler, a Greenbank resident, wrote to county commissioners recently to request an extension of the comment period and a public hearing on the project.
Without due consultation of its constituents, Island County is preparing to allow the expansion by 100 acres of the Rempel Brothers Concrete gravel excavation site, Hetler wrote. I am against such a determination without the full participation of all impacted parties.
Daniel Horsell, a member of the Wildwoodview Acres Water Association, said the gravel pit project may lead to contamination of the islands sole source aquifer.
My concern is for the water I supply and the quality that we have, Horsell said.
Since the island has only one source of water, everyone has a stake in it. I just want the greatest scrutiny to ensure that the integrity of our water is maintained, he said.
Currently, the company mines gravel from a 60-acre pit on the property and supplies concrete and other materials for South Whidbey builders.
The company has had environmental problems in the past with its operations, however.
In the late 1990s, the company ran afoul of Washington States Department of Ecology in two separate instances and, for which Rempel Brothers Concrete Inc. paid a total of just over $23,000 in penalties.
In 1997, the company was ordered to pay $9,000 for not constructing retention ponds to hold rinse water from concrete trucks.
In 1999, the company was hit with a $14,000 penalty for failing to report water quality levels to the state for seven months.
The companys previous track record with past environmental violations has shown proof to the neighbors that future expansion could impact the environment.
They are expanding into rural forest, said gravel pit neighbor John Comer.
I cant imagine that mining in there wont have an impact. This is the narrowest portion of Whidbey Island. And once they expand that, there is probably going to be a third of that with what looks like a meteorite hole, Comer added.
There is also a county-designated wetland in the proposed expansion area that would also have to be protected.
Walden said that if the expansion is approved, a 100-foot buffer would be maintained around the wetland.
Comer, however, said the companys plans show a 50 feet of buffer on each side of the wetland and it appears both were added together to get the total of 100 feet.
I think hes adding this 50 feet and that 50 feet and coming up with 100 feet. But as it is drawn on the map, it is 50 feet around the wetland, Comer said.
Karen and Pat Haster are also concerned about Waldens expansion plans but they hope the potential environmental impacts of the project will be studied closely.
People have a tendency to cry wolf because they are scared, said Karen Haster, who was a public works engineer with the county before she retired.
I feel very confident that environmental impact studies will be done. This is not something that will happen tomorrow and that they will put things in place that ensure water quality, she said. I dont believe that this is a fast track to getting the application approved.
While we dont like whats going on, with the potential impact, especially financially, we all came here to live a certain kind of life and that is being threatened, added Pat Haster.
There is a system in place and you have to work within that system, he added.
Walden, too, said he knows his proposal will be closely scrutinized.
This doesnt only go through the county but the Department of Ecology and Department of Natural Resources, he said.
It is not just Island County that we have to satisfy, but the state departments as well. We are just following Island Countys standards. It is not something we are trying to hide or pull the wool over anybodys eyes, Walden said.
Walden said he is just trying to keep his company going, though he acknowledged the company has made mistakes in the past.
I dont think people realize how regulated this industry is. Between the Department of Ecology, Department of Natural Resources, air pollution control and all those agencies, they just come out, he said. They dont call us up and tell us they are coming. We do the best we can and sometimes we make mistakes.
Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.