Threats to Liberty Hill
Knife River Corporation, a subsidiary of MDU Resources based in North Dakota, wants to mine Liberty Hill for it's basalt, a rock commonly found throughout the PNW. A Previous mining company obtained a Land Use Permit from Columbia County in 1992 to expand the Watters Quarry at the Northern end of Liberty Hill). This county permit never been reviewed or revised despite errors to the original document and the changes the surrounding properties have undergone over the last 30 years.
If plans go as proposed, mining will remove over 12 acres of wetland and intermittent streams at the site including several acres of camas meadow with their ecologically diverse and rare native plant populations. Considered as ARSC (aquatic resources of special concern) the types of wetlands found in the camas meadows cannot be replicated. In addition, several upland wetlands and ponds with their sensitive species will be completely removed. The mining plan will also involve the scraping of topsoil and destruction of hundreds of native oak and ash trees that are integral to this unique habitat. Even the "indirect impacts" have a great potential to disrupt this environment. The complex natural hydrology of Liberty Hill that feeds several meadows and wetlands outside of the impact area have the potential to be gravely affected. Many additional streams and ponds are threatened.
Recent photo, looking North into The Watters Quarry, owned by Weyerhaeuser and leased/operated by Knife River.
Most of the lands of Liberty Hill (over 200 acres) is owned by Weyerhaeuser. Approximately 65 acres of the Southernmost portion lie within the Urban Growth Boundary of St. Helens. Having been logged for its sparse population of Douglas Fir in 2015, the land is unsuitable for continued timber production and was recently moved into Weyerhaeuser's "real estate portfolio" to be eventually sold for development.
Due to the solid basalt substrate, steep grade, limited easements as well as an undesirable proximity to mining operations, the site would be quite expensive to develop and potentially unpleasant to live on. It is the view of FOLH that this area could be best preserved - perhaps used as conservation easement, open to the public with trails for both cyclists and those who want to view and study the camas and native plants.
In recent years Liberty Hill's neighboring wetlands and camas meadows have been filled and scraped for development, leaving the area with an ever dwindling green space for the local community and a loss of historic camas fields that once covered most of the region. The greatest loss, however, will be the destruction of one of the last, if not the last ecologically diverse and specialized habitats in the Pacific Northwest. This makes efforts to conserve a portion of the land all the more urgent.