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