Swinomish Tribal Community says "no permit should issue without a complete and thorough EIS."

Nov. 13, 2020, 9:16 p.m.

November 12, 2020 

Washington Department of Natural REsources 

Attn: SEPA Center 

Via email: [email protected] 

Re: Surface Mining Reclamation Permit #70-013279 

Dear DNR SEPA Center: 

 The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (“Swinomish Tribe”) appreciates the  opportunity to provide comments on DNR’s Determination of Non-Significance (“DNS”) on the  proposed permit #70-013279. In 2019 the Swinomish Tribe opposed Skagit County’s permitting  the Kiewit Infrastructure Corp. quarry near Marblemount unless and until a full Environmental  Impact Statement (EIS) was required for the project, and it was determined whether the  significant adverse environmental impacts could be fully mitigated. The Skagit County  commissioners agreed that an EIS was needed, at which time Kiewit withdrew its application. 

 The Cunningham Crushing Company (the “Company”) has requested approval for a  mining operation on the same site near Marblemount, calling it the Cascade Big Bear Mine. We  respectfully question the efficacy of DNR’s SEPA determination that the proposed permit will  not have significant adverse environmental impacts on the site and surrounding environs, and  note that the Swinomish Tribe’s interests at this site were not raised in the SEPA checklist. 

The Tribe’s concerns last year with the Kiewet project proposal included that this  

property is adjacent to important hunting areas regularly used to provide subsistence food to  tribal members. The concern stemmed from the substantially increased noise and traffic  disturbance to wildlife. The Tribe still has these concerns. These issues were not included or  addressed in the Company’s SEPA checklist, and we believe this is a material omission. 

Additionally, the Tribe had concerns with the Kiewet project project about where and  how all of the mined material would ultimately be transported within the County and to its  market destination – the transportation impacts do not magically disappear once the large dump  trucks reach State Highway 20. It’s important to note that in a February 2015 Skagit County 

Hearing Examiner decision on the Shell Oil Refinery proposal to build a rail spur from the  existing railway line to the refinery at March Point, the Hearing Examiner granted environmental  appellants’ request that the County be required to prepare an EIS, rather than a Mitigated DNS, because the County and Shell “severely truncated the environmental inquiry here by reducing it  to such a limited geographic scope.” The Hearing Examiner also cited the lack of traffic analysis  at intersections throughout the County as one of the areas requiring EIS study, among others. 

With the Company’s current proposal, there is no traffic analysis provided despite the  proposed addition of several years of multiple large dump trucks hauling rock along the local  road and state highway system. Nor is there any information provided about whether the  Company intends to barge the mined material from a Skagit County or Whatcom County port.  This is particularly concerning potential impact to the Tribe, as Swinomish works diligently to  protect its Treaty fishing rights from additional vessel impacts and interference. The information  and analysis on the land transportation proposals warrants additional information and analysis in  the form of an EIS. The potential for the use of barges that would increase vessel traffic is an  issue that was not included or addressed in the Company’s SEPA checklist, and we believe this  is a material omission. 

Importantly, DNR previously determined that a geotechnical study was necessary if  mining was to be conducted on site, and there is no supporting information in the current SEPA  checklist or accompanying materials providing information or justification about why the agency  has reversed that prior determination. In a June 6, 2011 letter, DNR geologist Rian Skov stated,  in response to a proposal to mine rock at this same location that:  

“After discussing the proposed mining plan; to remove talus material as the initial  phase... the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) determined that a thorough  geotechnical slope stability study will be required along with the standard  materials for a reclamation permit application (SM-8a form, SM-6 form...) if  mining is to be conducted on site. The slope stability requirement comes from the  complex structural nature of the site coupled with a mining plan which proposes  removal of slope restraining forces as the initial phase of mining. The study must  detail the geologic structure of the site, address how mining operations will affect  slope stability and, if applicable, give recommendations for mining operations  which minimize the potential of slope destabilization.” Emphasis supplied. 

Similarly, in an April 23, 2019 email, DNR geologist John Bromley, reiterated:  

“The rock wall at the site [Marblemount] is jointed and fractured, I believe the  letter you refer to from 2011 describes these features and potential risk to miners  should mining resume.” 

In addition, the Kiewit proposal found that the site has three geological hazards, as  defined by DNR regulations: Landslide, Erosion, and Seismic Hazard Critical Areas. As you  likely know, the site lies atop the active Cascade North-South Seismogenic Fault, as mapped by  DNR.

 Finally, we support the local residents concerns about the potential significant adverse  effects, both individual and cumulative, from the project proposal, on water quality, air quality,  and noise. We believe that given the material omissions and insufficient information, as well as  DNR reversing its clear prior position on mining at this site, that no permit should issue without  a complete and thorough EIS. Thank you for your consideration of our comments. 


Amy Trainer, Environmental Policy Director 

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community