Letter by Claire McIlvain Against Quarry Application

Nov. 4, 2020, midnight

Well over four hundred letters opposing the Marblemount quarry special use permit application by Kiewit Infrastructure Company have been submitted to Skagit County thus far. Please join us in telling Skagit County to deny Kiewit the right to operate a quarry mine in our beloved valley. The time frame for submitting comments has been extended to Monday, May 13th at 4:30 p.m. Here is a good letter from Claire McIlvain.

“My name is Claire McIlvain. I live in Grassmere, outside of Concrete, WA. Although this quarry is not right in my own backyard, I have no doubt that this project will severely impact me, my family, my friends, my community, and the entire ecosystem.

I have several friends who live directly below the proposed quarry site and I often take my toddler there to play with their small children. The rock face is sheer, jutting up suddenly out of the valley floor. I worry that clear-cutting 600 acres of trees from the top of this mountain will destabilize the entire slope. With the reverberations from multiple blasts a day, what guarantee do we have that my friends’ homes and families will be safe from landslides? Five years after the tragedy in Oso, have we learned anything?

Living in the country, my friends’ houses get their water from wells. Their water is exceptionally pure, clean, and healthy. Chemicals from blasting, as well as diesel that is sure to eventually spill out of equipment, will inevitably wash down the mountainside and into their groundwater. What protections do they have that their water will remain free of pollution? Should I be prepared to pack in drinking water whenever my son has a playdate? 

This groundwater will next seep into the Skagit River: a federally protected Wild and Scenic River, the lifeblood of our entire county. What will happen to the salmon? The eagles? All other creatures that depend on the river? What will happen to people who want to fish, to boat, or to camp along the river? 

This community is the gateway to North Cascades National Park. People travel from all over the world to experience the beauty and wildness of this place that we call home. Will they still want to come with the vista marred by an open-faced quarry? What of the cyclists who want to share the roads? Will they be willing to chance their safety biking up Highway 20 with a large truck roaring past every three minutes? We should not concede to sacrificing our budding eco-tourism industry, which brings so much life (and revenue) into our community.

Back at my house in Concrete, I wake up every morning to the sound of birdsong. I’ve been learning the names of the birds I hear: mountain chickadee, variegated thrush, barred owl, Stellar’s jay, flicker, Swainson’s thrush, spotted towhee. Although I live about half a mile away from Highway 20, I can clearly hear every time a vehicle passes. Sounds reverberate for miles around. With a truck from the mine passing by every three minutes, beginning at six a.m., six days a week, will my home continue to be a peaceful refuge? And I have no question that we will be able to hear reverberations from the blasts at the quarry. The sound carries for incredible distances in this valley.

The past several summers, our skies have been darkened by the smoke blowing in from forest fires in other places. As the eery pink sun struggled to illuminate anything through the haze, I felt myself constantly on edge, praying that every person passing through our valley would miraculously be responsible enough to avoid lighting backyard fires, or even throw a cigarette butt out of their car window. In our bone-dry summers, any tiny spark could be enough to light up the whole valley in flames. And yet we want explosives powerful enough to destroy a mountainside to be stored, unguarded, on these very slopes? Marblemount only has a tiny volunteer fire department, already stretched thin. It’s entirely unrealistic to expect that they’ll be able to contain an industrial-scale fire before it spreads to consume thousands of acres and beyond. With climate change only predicted to make our periods of drought longer and our summers hotter, this risk will only continue to grow more dire.

At a recent guided tour of Rockport State Park, a park ranger pointed out a lichen called Usnea or Methuselah’s beard. This half-algae, half-fungus, which has medicinal uses and grows millimeters a year, is festooned all over the old growth trees of the park. The rangers told us that this lichen grows only in conditions of the purest air quality. With the “fugitive dust” escaping from this project, as well as the 201 additional tons of CO2 produced daily by the trucks passing on Highway 20, will the Usnea disintegrate and fall to the ground?

I ask that you extend the comment period for this proposal. The amount of time the community has been given to review this large amount of technical information is comically inadequate. Or it would be comical, if the consequences of this project weren’t so catastrophic for our communities. I also ask that an Environmental Impact Statement be completed. The effects of this project look to be so much higher than what was indicated by Kiewit.

Thank you for your consideration. I ask that you give credence to the voices of the people who live in this area, whose lives will be directly and negatively impacted by the approval of this project.