A long-dormant sand and gravel mine near the Port of Tacoma soon could start operating again, and Northeast Tacoma neighbors and an environmental group are concerned about its potential impacts and what they view as a lack of transparency in the permitting process.
The permit application for the mine was published on the city’s website Dec. 29, and public comment on the proposal to excavate material will end Jan. 27.
Citizens for a Healthy Bay has been speaking with the mine’s neighbors in Northeast Tacoma and is lamenting what the group said feels like a short public comment period, since the notice was published during the holidays when many people are on vacation or with family.
The group also is concerned that the city has said it might not require an additional environmental review for the mine to reopen.
A determination that a project needs extra review helps in cases such as these, said Ryan Cruz of Citizens for a Healthy Bay, because it increases the time the public can comment on a project and helps safeguard against environmental damage.
Lately, Cruz said, environmentalists and Northeast Tacoma residents are particularly sensitive to anything that whiffs of a lack of transparency or that might be seen as toxic to the environment.
People in Northeast Tacoma want a say in what’s going on in their community, and without the State Environmental Policy Act review, the opportunities for public input will be extremely limited.
Ryan Cruz, Citizens for a Healthy Bay
“Our concern mostly stems from the past year or so with methanol and LNG,” Cruz said, referring to the community backlash against a proposed methanol plant at the port (plans for which were nixed last spring) and the continued protests against the siting of a planned liquefied natural gas plant there.
“We’ve seen the community really re-engage and pay more attention to what’s happening in their backyard’s environment, what projects are being proposed, and they’ve made themselves very clear that they want to be included in the decision-making process,” Cruz said.
The city is reviewing the application to excavate 400,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel from the 17-acre Coski surface mine at 2500 Marine View Drive. The mining is to take place over 10 years.
The last time the property got a permit for mining was in 2008, according to city planner Shirley Schultz, though no excavation was done at that time.
The mine has been there since 1990, according to the permit application, and is bordered by Marine View Drive, the Tacoma Police Department gun range, vacant city land and port property. The site is bounded to the north by single-family homes, with the closest home 450 feet away, the application says. The majority of the site is also zoned residential — something neighbors say underlines the fact that mining is inappropriate there.
Schultz said that at present it doesn’t look as if an additional environmental review will be needed, but the final determination on that will be made when the decision on the conditional use permit is made.
A project, if it meets the code, is going to already address any impacts just because it meets the code.
Shirley Schultz, planner for the city of Tacoma
Any environmental effects the mining operations might have on the surrounding area likely would be regulated by city code, she said. Traffic and noise are two things that might have to be mitigated with special conditions, she said.
“A project, if it meets the code, is going to already address any impacts just because it meets the code,” Schultz said.
Limiting the mine’s hours of operation and allowing only excavation and removal — and not processing or crushing — of mined material are ways to cut back on potential noise.
Traffic will be studied, too, because congestion on Marine View Drive might have changed since 2008, when the last mining permit was issued.
Mel Berglund, a Northeast Tacoma resident, said he and his neighbors are worried about wildlife, noise, traffic and air pollution, and want the city to commit to do an environmental review in the interest of transparency. They’re also fed up, he said, by what they see as a lack of communication from the city about industrial projects near their homes.
“We are starting to feel like we are a community under siege,” Berglund said. “A project of this size, of this magnitude, of this impact to the people for noise, traffic, for wildlife — all these things need to be reviewed by the proper channels before we have to decide yes or no. It can’t be just one or two people sitting in an office somewhere saying, ‘yep, it sounds good to me.’ ”
A public meeting on restarting a sand and gravel mining operation at the Port of Tacoma will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Tacoma City Council chambers at 747 Market St.