Mining permit application update 3/4/21  

* DEQ public comment period has now ended.

* public comment period for Department of State Lands will start at a later date this coming year.  Updates will be posted on this page.

THANK YOU to everyone who submitted comments to USACE and DEQ!!

We are are also pleased to report that the reviewer at USACE will be accepting comments "into next week" despite yesterday's 3/3 deadline .

If you missed the deadline but still wish to submit comment, please find below, instructions, screen grab examples and additional info for writing your comment.

 - Please use the reviewer's email address (Caila.M.Heintz@usace.army.mil )  
-Please note that NWP-2020-065 should be in the "subject" line of the email as well as the letter.
-Please include your name and mailing address
-The image below  is an example for formatting . Writers are welcome to use the first paragraph for inspiration and info, but please do use it word-for-word.

The link to the USACE public notice page expired on 3/3/21.  Below is a screen grab of the notice for NWP-2020-065 with information on the application.  The full application for the mining permit can be viewed on the Department of State Lands website through this link*

* Be warned, it is 1800+ pages long.  The first 20 pages, maps and mitigation plan are most useful.

Not sure what to write??  Below are some facts and  "talking points" that may help assist in advocacy for Liberty Hill. 

LIBERTY HILL FACTS and FOLH SUGGESTED PUBLIc RESPONSES**

 

** in order for your comments to have the greatest impact - we highly suggest you not submit comments word-for-word as written below.  Unique and individualized comments will have more meaningful impact. 

FACT: Approximately 94 acres will be directly impacted by mining for basalt.  Over 12 acres of wetland and seasonal steams will be impacted (completely removed) including those designated "indirect impact" that will eventually go dry from the natural water source being cut off.  

 

The proposed mining expansion will gravely impact one of the regions last, largest, unusually intact and ecologically diverse native habitats in the state of Oregon.  These include specialized "wet meadows" that are extremely difficult if not impossible to replace in mitigation efforts.

 

Considering the value of this site remaining intact and the fact that basalt is plentiful and easily obtained elsewhere in the region - even very close to the proposed site, Liberty Hill should be preserved.

As sited in 2013 by Dr. Kenton Chambers, herbarium at OSU and John Christy, wetlands ecologist and botanist with OSU, this site of proposed mining expansion is considered as "one of the best examples of intact camas meadow and oak/ash mixed woodland in the Pacific Northwest." It needs to be preserved.  Basalt is not rare.  Sites like such as this are.

It is estimated that only 2% of this type of ecologically diverse oak and camas plant community still exists in Oregon where historically it covered much of the Willamette Valley, Lower Columbia Gorge (such as this site), up into Washington State and into B.C.  In these other areas mentioned it is nearly gone as well.  Because of this drastic loss, most people in the Pacific Northwest don't even realize these "ghost landscapes"  of prairies dotted with oak and wildflowers existed, believing instead that our Iconic Douglas fir forests were what once grew all around.  Not only were the plant communities incredibly diverse, but so were the bird, fish, insect and animal population that they sustained.  This site is a remnant.  A survivor of 150+ years of development, agrculture, industrial degredation and MINING.  Now this expansion is looking to erase this beautiful and now rare landscape even more - FOR ROCK.

 


 FACT: Liberty Hill has over 20 acres of almost continuous camas meadow. 

 

Though there are a multitude of other wildflowers and native plants at this site, it is the camas bloom that occurs every April that is a delight to both local and regional people who marvel at the sea of blue blossoms. A soft blue "glow" from the mass flowering can even be viewed from a distance by passersby on highway 30 . In the past, while this site was not the blooming camas meadow that Meriwether Lewis noted in his journal as resembling " lakes of fine clear water", given the proximity to the route of the Corps of the Discovery explorers, these meadows could well have garnered the same response . These camas meadows, however, are far older than the time of Lewis and Clark.  Tended and harvested by the tribes of the region, there is little doubt that they have been present for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Where does this mining company have the RIGHT to destroy such a place of significant history, beauty and rarity that is cherished by the community and the regions native people?  Basalt can be found many other places instead of beneath these meadows, which are a living legacy of Pacific Northwest history. 

 

The application to date, and pending revision, is planning 44 acres of mitigation area in an effort to replace lost wetland. This site is proposed for the West side of the expansion plan and includes both preserving as well as “enhancing” existing wetlands that will involve removal of invasive plants already present. Hydrology may be supplied by redirecting water from sources in the lower SW portion of the mitigation area.  A “stream” will be created just beyond and parallel the Urban growth boundary to connect hydrology from the uplands to the the East side of the site.

Overall, ANY mitigation to try to replace these specialized habitats that have formed naturally over thousands of years are woefully inadequate with a high degree of failure in recreating them.  When the rock beneath these areas is removed, they are never coming back.  Alternate sites NEED to be thoroughly explored and encouraged.

The following paragraph is a direct excerpt from the permit application regarding “project purpose and need".  Please note that this specific information is not provided on the USACE public notice page overview of the project.  The full permit application can be found HERE 

 

High-quality aggregate is essential for the construction of public infrastructure projects including roads, railroads, bridges, buildings and airports as well as private residential, commercial and industrial developments.  Aggregate is required for nearly all construction projects as the primary component of concrete and asphalt paving material and as structural fill. The project would assure a long-term local source of high-quality aggregate in the County and nearby Portland metropolitan area market for the next 50 years, depending on market conditions. The project would benefit the local and regional community by providing jobs and an affordable source of high-quality aggregate products for public and private construction projects.

If this project is “depending on market conditions” as it states in the actual permit (not in the USACE summary) then why is this extraction plan so huge?

Why does it all need to come from this site over 50 years? - especially when there are other existing quarries nearby as well as other potential sites for basalt extraction.

Basalt is one of the most plentiful rocks on earth and is widespread both locally (Knife River has several other quarries in the area) and regionally outside the proposed site. There are also plenty of other mining companies in the region who could provide basalt aggregate from other sites - some nearby.  Some of these companies are local.  Knife River’s parent company is a huge company, MDU Resources and it is in Bismarck ND. They have several quarries around the Western US. The depletion fee for rock, which benefits the area is very low. This project mostly “takes” and does not give back. 

How will it create jobs when the current Watters Quarry (before proposed expansion) only employs less than 10 local people (the nearest community). Mining is largely automated and expansion will not require many additional oppurtunities for employment.  This site is beautiful and has been known to and enjoyed by the community for decades.  Basalt is everywhere and Knife River is not hurting.  They should quarry elsewhere.

Knife River parent company is MDU Resources headquartered out of Bismark, North Dakota.  Only a handful of their employees live locally.  Historically, mining was an important local industry to the Saint Helen’s area that provided many good paying jobs as well as meaningful involvement with the community.  Now Knife River puts a banner up at the Columbia County Fair and calls it good.  This is no longer a "local industry".  It's a giant, out-of-state corporation that is lining it's executives pockets from selling off Oregon basalt aggregate without even a decent depletion fee to give back.  

The depletion fee on rock extraction is very low in Columbia County.  The local community will benefit MINIMALLY from this mining expansion with a much greater risk of loss of an important and exceedingly rare ecosystem and natural resource for future generations. 

BASALT CAN BE FOUND EVERYWHERE.

FACT: Two "alternative sites" were studied for mining - one directly to the North and one a few miles West.  Also, "alternative analysis" was provided for levels of degradation and appropriate mitigation response for wetland losses in the preferred site.

The "alternative analysis" sites for other possible basalt extraction has not been thoroughly explored.  Of note, is a large basalt shelf which is RIGHT THERE on the North side of the existing quarry that is also owned by the lessor (Weyerhaeuser) and could easily and relatively inexpensively be extracted without a need for such a huge expensive mitigation project that will be required for the prefferred expansion to the South.  The immediate North site does not have anywhere near the significant ecological value as the prefferred site with it's huge camas meadow, streams and wetlands. There appears to be a decent supply to quarry in that direction, so why not expand that way?  It should provide at least 20-30 years of basalt aggregate.

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