Skagit County approved — without conditions — the plans for a controversial gravel mine in a rural area north of Sedro-Woolley. The decision, which critics call an “absurd, semi-incoherent rant,” paves the way for Concrete Nor’West to begin developing Grip Road Gravel Mine, which has been stuck in limbo for more than six years.
The long-awaited “Notice of Decision,” issued by former county hearing examiner Andrew Reeves, failed to include the fundamentals: finding of facts, conclusion of law and conditions on the project moving forward to address any environmental and public health concerns, said Will Honea, the senior deputy attorney with Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
This is despite seven days of testimony and thousands of pages of documents submitted to Reeves. According to Skagit County Code, Reeves was supposed to submit his decision or recommendation for the proposal “within 15 days” of the conclusion of the public hearing, or by Oct. 28, 2022.
“From what we gathered, there’s quite a body of evidence in the hearing examiner record, although you wouldn’t know that from reading the decision,” Honea said.
Instead, the contentious former hearing examiner used the bulk of the two-page document to air his grievances about the legal pressure he faced for failing to submit the decision within the required timeframe. Reeves was not immediately available for comment.
“Out of an abundance of caution given the very clear threat of being put in jail for an indeterminate length of time … [I] defer to the Applicant’s desires and County’s wishes is appropriate, inevitable, and definitely, 100% totally uncoerced,” Reeves, who is no longer employed by Skagit County, wrote in the notice issued Thursday, Feb. 1.
Almost a year after public hearings for the gravel mine proposal, parent company Miles Sand and Gravel filed a lawsuit against the county and Reeves.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 9, 2023, in the Superior Court of the State of Washington for Skagit County, named hearing examiner Reeves for the much-delayed release of a decision regarding the special-use permit and an appeal by the Central Samish Valley Neighbors’ (CSVN).
The Grip Road Gravel Mine, proposed in 2016, is slated to place a 51-acre gravel mine on a 77-acre forested property near Old Highway 99 in Skagit County. Concrete Nor’west plans to log about 68 acres to make room for the mine before hauling about 23 loaded trucks off the property each day for gravel management at other facilities, according to proposal documents.
“The Hearing Examiner approves whatever the Applicant was seeking throughout the permit process and denies all tangential issues and appeals that have stood in the Applicant’s way,” Reeves wrote.
CSVN, which opposes the project, compared the decision by Reeves to a “rant of a disaffected employee who has lost interest in the process,” calling the decision “clearly invalid.”
“During the nearly eight years since we first learned about the proposed mine, we have grown accustomed to the county’s blunders in reviewing and processing this permit application,” said John Day, a core member of CSVN who lives about a mile from the site of the proposed gravel mine. “However, releasing this is beyond absurd. The two-page document consists almost entirely of a semi-incoherent rant from the former Skagit County hearing examiner, Andrew Reeves.”
Day pointed out that the decision failed to address public concern about road safety, truck traffic and environmental impacts of the mine.
Nearly 40 people testified about the potential negative impacts of a new gravel mine during public comment in 2022. They voiced their concerns about numerous issues including the impacts of trucking on small, rural roads; the potential harm to local fish populations in the Samish River; and the erosion of their way of life.
“In releasing this decision, the County appears to have disregarded, without comment or rationale, years o
f public concern, study and legally filed testimony on this proposal,” a CSVN news release stated.
As it stands, the gravel mine is free to operate without additional county restrictions.
“The next step for us is to appeal this decision,” Day said. CSVN has until Feb. 14 to appeal the process.
Honea said that if the county receives an appeal it will not be able to accept new evidence but will be able to rely on the substantial body of evidence already submitted. The board will then be able to send the evidence to a different hearing examiner or enter its own findings and conclusion.
“Obviously, we have concerns about the reasoning that was provided for the approval of the decision, which in essence doesn’t exist,” Honea said.
Isaac Stone Simonelli is CDN’s enterprise/investigations reporter; reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-922-3090 ext. 127.