Some residents of Snoqualmie want a full environmental review — noting everything from PCBs in the soil to flooding hazards — before the city annexes the former Weyerhaeuser Mill site. Instead, the city plans to go ahead with the annexation.
Whenever heavy rains come and the river rises, Wendy Thomas worries that floodwaters may creep into her hardware store on Falls Avenue in Snoqualmie. She wonders it if will carry contaminates with it, too.
Thomas and other Snoqualmie residents blame the flooding on fill that was placed on an old, adjacent and abandoned Weyerhaeuser mill site and on a berm built there to keep logs from floating away during floods in years gone by.
Recent flooding has been such a problem that some residents don’t know why the city of Snoqualmie is pushing ahead with a plan to annex the 480-acre former mill site without performing an extensive environmental study opponents say is necessary.
If the city heeded its own Comprehensive Plan, Thomas and the other critics say improvements to the site would be a condition of annexation and paid for by property owners, Snoqualmie Mill Ventures, which operates a popular off-road driving school, DirtFish, on the site.
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Instead, the city has elected to defer the requirements to remove the fill and the berm at the site, because, as Mayor Matt Larson said, the city doesn’t want to burden Snoqualmie Mill Ventures, which he believes will be bringing tourism and substantial business to the cash-strapped city.
Larson estimates an extensive environmental study and cleanup could cost “hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars” to a business that hasn’t made any changes to the site.
Snoqualmie Mill Ventures isn’t keen on doing a cleanup either.
“Obviously, any unplanned expense to a business is burdensome, especially one in a startup phase,” said Ross Bentley, president of DirtFish, the rally driving school operated by Snoqualmie Mill Ventures, which purchased the property about a year ago.
One sticking point is that the driving school is considered redevelopment by the county so if it remains in unincorporated King County, it could be required to address the flooding and contamination issues.
If it became part of the city of Snoqualmie, the city says it wouldn’t be considered new development and a full environmental review would not be necessary.
Larson says Snoqualmie Mill Ventures invested in the site after being given assurance from King County that operating a rally driving school would be allowed within the zoning for the site, an assurance the county later backed away from after pressure from local residents.
A full environmental review — not just the recently completed abbreviated environmental check list performed by the city — is just what opponents of the annexation want.
Larson the mayor isn’t pleased.
“Now the private investors … are getting whacked around by some residents who are unreasonable. It’s unfair of them,” he said.
The site has long been blamed for contributing to the severity of the Snoqualmie Valley flooding because the fill prevents it from acting as a natural floodplain, which would absorb water. The annexation opponents have two concerns:
• The remaining approximately million cubic yards of fill.
• PCBs found in the soil within two feet of an aquifer after two transformers were destroyed in a 1989 plywood-plant fire.
Thomas, a member of the city economic-development board, and others in the activist group Your Snoqualmie Valley, are asking for an environmental study before the property is annexed, an action that could come before the council this month.
Instead, says Thomas, the annexation “is moving along faster than a shotgun wedding.”
Over the 105 years of lumber operations at the site, bark and other materials were often discarded in the mill’s sort yard. Later, when flooding caused Weyerhaeuser’s logs to float out onto Mill Pond Road, the company built a berm to keep the logs on the property.
Through the years, the berm, which runs parallel to Mill Pond Road, grew in height as more fill was added, said Dick Ryon, retired land-use director for Weyerhaeuser.
DirtFish opened the rally driving school last fall and drivers, some from around the world, learn to drive fast in off-road conditions. DirtFish also hosted an international rally-driving event broadcast on ESPN in April. There are plans to do more high-profile televised events — if the land is annexed to the city. It would be a mistake not to do an environmental study before annexing the property, said David Bricklin, the attorney representing Your Snoqualmie Valley.
The proposed annexation area contains hazardous waste not disposed of properly, as well as flooding issues, Bricklin says.
The EPA says that after PCBs were found in a portion of the site in 1989. An area about the size of a baseball diamond was excavated, a tarp was placed over it, it was backfilled and then covered with plastic. It was last tested in 1995 and no leakage was found, the EPA said. The agency, however, has recommended access to the area restricted. That area is located on the DirtFish site and is surrounded by a chain-link fence.
Weyerhaeuser ceased operations at the site in 2003. Anthony Chavez, public-affairs manager for Weyerhaeuser, said the company hired a consultant and a full environmental clean up was done, including removal of 49,000 cubic yards of fill, leaving 1.05 million. He said the decision was made not to touch the PCB-contaminated area.
The berm, identified by the King County Flood Hazard Reduction Plan as a hazard in violation of federal floodplain-management regulations, also remains, trapping floodwater and causing it to flow toward the city.
Your Snoqualmie Valley citizens, who either live in the flood zone or on the hill above the rally track, say they are as disappointed with the county as they are with the city. They note that Snoqualmie has most of its population in the flourishing community of businesses and homes well above flood level at Snoqualmie Ridge, and they believe the city no longer cares about the rest of the city’s population.
As far as Thomas is concerned, if city employees did their job, they’d slow the annexation plans down. The human misery alone in this should make the city think hard, she said.
As far as Snoqualmie Mill Ventures is concerned annexation is inevitable since it’s in the long-range plans for the city.
“It’s not a matter of whether the city … will annex our property, it’s only a matter of time. It’s in everyone’s … best interest,” Bentley said.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org