The proposed state budget includes $15 million that would go toward the purchase of a controversial gravel-mine site on Maury Island run by Glacier Northwest.
A portion of the money funneled to the state from a bankruptcy settlement with mining-giant Asarco may ultimately be used to buy a controversial mine on Maury Island.
The state budget deal reached Monday night sets aside $15 million toward buying the 235-acre sand and gravel mine. Its owners have sought for a dozen years to build a 305-foot dock to load sand and gravel onto barges near an aquatic reserve.
The Cascade Land Conservancy has been quietly negotiating with mine owner Cal Portland, formerly Glacier Northwest, for months to buy the property, clean it up and preserve it as public land.
The money in the state budget is “a statement of the commitment and belief” by lawmakers in the value of ending a decade of political and legal wrangling over plans to restart gravel operations near Quartermaster Harbor, said the conservancy’s Michelle Connor.
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“There’s a long way between here and getting to a transaction, but I’m hopeful in the months ahead that we’ll have a good-news story,” she said.
Pete Stoltz, spokesman for the gravel company, would not say how much the company wants for the land, but acknowledged it’s working toward a deal.
“There are several complex issues associated with the transaction, and I’m not at liberty to discuss them,” he said. But “we’re willing to sell, as long as the transaction meets our business objectives.”
The Cascade Land Conservancy over the next few months plans to hire an appraiser to gauge what the property is worth.
This isn’t the first time the two parties have tried to reach a sale agreement. A half-dozen years ago the two sides parted ways after Glacier Northwest sought three times more than the conservancy wanted to pay.
“There was money appropriated by Congress to do basically the same thing,” said John Arum, an attorney who has represented island residents. “But Glacier was advocating for a higher price because they were looking at more than just the value of the land. They were looking at how much it would cost them to buy gravel from somewhere else.”
This time, however, advocates think bargaining positions have changed.
Last summer, a federal judge ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers had not adequately assessed how construction and operation of the pier might harm chinook salmon and orcas, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. He ordered Glacier to do a more detailed environmental review, postponing the project for years.
“That was a game-changer,” said Bill Dunbar, a spokesman for residents who fought the mine for years.
Then, in December, the Justice Department reached a settlement with Asarco’s parent company. Washington got $188 million for environmental restoration in Everett and areas north of Tacoma contaminated by lead and arsenic from its smelters.
If a deal comes together it would be a coup for environmentalists and Democratic politicians, from King County Executive Dow Constantine and his former aide, Rep. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, to Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark. They made fighting the project a centerpiece of their political campaigns, arguing that it could harm herring and salmon.
But Todd Myers, former spokesman for Goldmark’s predecessor, Republican Doug Sutherland, said there are more important ways to spend the money.
“That’s a tremendous amount of money to spend on something that wasn’t even on anyone’s priority list,” he said. “But this is sexy and high-profile, where a lot of the more important day-to-day projects like cleaning up septic tanks aren’t but have much higher value.”
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or firstname.lastname@example.org