The long battle over the gravel mine on Maury Island is nearly over.
CalPortland, owner of the mine, has agreed to sell the 236-acre property to King County for $36 million, rather than continue to try to develop it into a major extraction and shipping facility.
A $14.5 million court settlement of claims against the old Asarco smelter at Ruston was critical to the deal.
“In this business climate, it’s a good thing for the county and ourselves,” Ron Summers, senior vice president of the Materials Group at CalPortland, said Wednesday. “It’s a chance for both the county and ourselves to say, ‘This is a win-win,’ and go on to future things.”
For King County, the acquisition will protect 250 acres of Madrona forest and a mile of shoreline, including habitat for endangered chinook salmon.
Along with King County’s 320-acre Maury Island Marine Park, just north of the CalPortland property and its mile of shoreline, the two sites represent the largest public holding of protected marine shoreline in Puget Sound.
“The chance to permanently protect such a long stretch of undeveloped Puget Sound shoreline and uplands is the kind of opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “After more than a decade of advocating for this habitat, I could not be more pleased at this breakthrough.”
The Cascade Land Conservancy has been trying for more than a year to broker a deal among CalPortland, King County and the state to acquire and restore the property.
Wednesday’s announcement was not the result of any sudden changes in the talks, sources said, but was motivated by the urgency of an end-of-the-year deadline insisted on by CalPortland.
Final closure of the deal will require several further steps, including approval by the King County Council and raising a significant amount of cash.
The Asarco contribution came from a court-approved bankruptcy plan that provided $188 million to Washington State for environmental damages caused by the smelter, including toxic fallout over Vashon and Maury islands.
Last year, the Legislature approved an allocation of $14.5 million allocation from the settlement to help buy the Maury Island property.
In the sale agreement, CalPortland agreed to accept the extension of a county lease on another gravel pit on the island, royalty-free, from 2020 to 2030 to make up $2.4 million of the $36 million purchase price.
In addition, $19.1 million is proposed to be advanced from the King County Conservation Futures Fund, which by state law can be used only to buy open space or resource lands – with the expectation that $2 million will be paid back into the fund through private fundraising.
The executive director of Preserve Our Islands, one of the groups responsible for fundraising, said she was thrilled with the solution. Acquisition has been the organization’s hope for more than a decade, Amy Carey said Wednesday.
“We have achieved goals of the environmental community and achieved a good outcome for the company because multiple parties came together to craft this solution and create what really is a legacy for the next generation and Puget Sound,” she said.
The Maury Island mine controversy is one of the region’s longest-running environmental battles.
CalPortland has maintained that mining sand and gravel on Maury and shipping it by barge is much more efficient – and easier on the environment – than using trucks to move material from mines farther inland.
Opponents argued that gravel mining has no place on Puget Sound because of potential impacts on marine habitat.
CalPortland’s efforts to expand an existing dock last year so outraged environmentalists and Vashon Island residents that they chained their arms together inside steel pipes to block construction access, then launched flotillas of kayaks to halt pile drivers.
Work on the 305-foot, T-shaped dock was suspended last year when State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark held up a state lease.
In the course of CalPortland’s efforts, seven state and federal agencies reviewed the project and required a long list of mitigating actions.
CalPortland (formerly Glacier Northwest and, before that, Lone Star Northwest) has owned the Maury Island property since the 1940s. CalPortland is owned by the Japanese Taiheiyo Cement Corp.
Geologists say the site holds one of the biggest and best deposits of sand and gravel in the United States.
Summers estimated Wednesday that CalPortland spent about $10 million on the permitting process and mitigation.
Summers admitted having mixed feelings at the agreement. After working for more than a decade to turn the site into a productive mine, it is difficult to give up, he said.
The sand and gravel on Maury Island would have helped meet a growing need in the Puget Sound area, Summers said.
“As the population of Puget Sound grows – and it’s going to grow – there’s going to be a continued demand for that material,” Summers said.
“Short term, because of the economic downturn, there’s probably going to be no major effect,” he said. “We’ll see the effect in five to 10 years when other reserves are depleted.”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693 email@example.com
Staff writer Stacia Glenn contributed to this report.