After 10 years of bitter legal and political skirmishes, work may soon get under way on a huge gravel mine on Maury Island.

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After 10 years of bitter legal and political skirmishes, work may soon get under way on a huge gravel mine on Maury Island.

Glacier Northwest, the company that for a decade has tried to expand its small sand and gravel mine on the Puget Sound island, says it wants to start construction as soon as this month, after receiving a critical state lease Tuesday.

The lease, issued by departing state lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, clears the way for Glacier to begin removing a decrepit dock there, and replace it with a new, longer dock meant to fill barges with gravel.

“This project is protective of the environment,” said Pete Stoltz, Glacier’s permit manager, who said work on the 305-foot dock could start within a month. “It provides needed materials to the region. This is a good project.”

Environmentalists, meanwhile, went to state court Wednesday morning, hoping to get the lease thrown out. They argue a big industrial dock shouldn’t be built in a state aquatic reserve, and that shade from the dock and noise of the operation will cause damage.

David Mann, an attorney representing the environmental group Preserve Our Islands, said Glacier might also be blocked for now by a county permit that requires litigation to be over before construction starts.

Stoltz, however, said the company has the approval it needs, and he didn’t think the lawsuit would interfere with the county permit.

Goldmark on Wednesday didn’t indicate if there’s anything he could, or would, do about the lease. But he said in a statement that “we are looking at options for the state to make sure the Sound is not harmed.”

Environmentalists were fuming Wednesday over what they see as a parting shot from Sutherland, a Republican, and a gift to Glacier, which donated $50,000 to a fund to re-elect Sutherland.

Environmentalists backed his opponent, Democrat Peter Goldmark, in the November election. They had recently sent a letter to Sutherland asking him to leave the lease decision to the next commissioner.

Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, said she was appalled that just as a new Puget Sound cleanup plan costing billions of dollars is unveiled, the state gave Glacier the lease for $1,500 a year — roughly $4 a day.

“A latte a day, and how many billions are we spending over the next 12 years to repair the Sound from things like this?” she said.

Sutherland defended the decision, saying the issue had been before his agency for some time and it was time to act.

“I felt that when the work was done and a decision was to be made, that it was most appropriately made by me,” he said.

The price of the lease is set by state law, based on the value the county assessor puts on the land adjacent to the underwater land, according to the state Department of Natural Resources, which Sutherland oversees.

Sutherland said the lease imposed strict environmental conditions on the size of the dock, and required Glacier to permanently set aside land along the shore, to protect it from development. The dock will be mostly a tube, high above the water, through which an estimated 2 million tons of gravel and sand will be funneled to barges each year.

He also noted that the state Department of Ecology, King County and the Army Corps of Engineers have also issued permits for the project.

Environmentalists are asking a federal court to reject the Corps of Engineers permit, arguing it will hurt federally protected chinook salmon and orcas.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or