News

Work stops on dig

t Survey finds excavation is larger than

permitted.

A stop work order was issued Friday at a south-end excavation site after surveyors determined the dig area exceeded what was permitted by the city, officials said.

Work at the site – a triangle of land bordered by Fletcher Bay, Bucklin Hill and Lynwood Center roads – can’t continue without the issuance of additional permits, City Administrator Mark Dombroski said Monday.

Though a final report won’t be finished until later this week, Dombroski said the disturbed area at the site is “larger than three acres but probably smaller than four acres.”

The size of the dig is important because excavations that exceed three acres in area or 15 feet in depth require a mining permit.

The city in May issued a grade-and-fill permit for the project, which is being carried out by island firm Nelson, Wood and Glass. Soon after workers began swapping truckloads of sand at the borrow site with less usable glacial till at the Blossom Hill development site near Lynwood Center.

Project Manager Bill Nelson said the measurement taken Friday included old digs – the land has long been used as a source of sand – that aren’t associated with his project.

“That greatly expanded the area of disturbance beyond our original plan,” Nelson said.

He said developers of the project will wait for the final report from the state Department of Natural Resources – which measured the site along with the city – before deciding what to do next. In addition to possibly needing to file for a mining permit with the state, they would also need a conditional use permit from the city to continue digging.

The city began receiving public queries about the project shortly after work began. Some people were worried about potential impact of the digging on the aquifer beneath, since there are a number of wells in the area. Mitigation was required as part of the project because a study determined the digging would impact aquifer recharge. The mitigation plan includes modern stormwater treatment elements and a raised berm designed to improve drainage.

As work continued, some questioned whether the excavation was larger than what the project’s permits allowed. 

Dombroski said he too thought the disturbed area “looked large” when he toured the site in early June.

He asked for verification of the dig’s size in a June 6 letter to Nelson, Wood and Glass, but said the response he received a week later wasn’t adequate.

City employees joined DNR surveyor Chris Johnson for a measurement of the site Friday morning.

Johnson on Monday said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the measurement – including the exact size of the disturbed area, whether old digs were included, or whether separate city measurements matched the ones he took – because he hasn’t yet completed his final report.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss yet,” he said. “If indeed this is a mining site and is in violation of the Surface Mining Act, reclamation would be required.”

The state Surface Mining Act was established in 1971 to assure that mine sites in Washington are sufficiently restored. 

Johnson said he isn’t familiar enough with the Nelson, Wood and Glass project to know what type of reclamation might be required should the violation be confirmed. 

He did speak in general terms about DNR’s role in such situations, which he said are common. 

Local jurisdictions – such as the city – are responsible for day-to-day oversight of work that goes on at excavation sites.

The state oversees the reclamation when violations occur, but the city still ultimately determines the allowable future uses of the land.

Johnson said DNR became involved with the project at the urging of community members who were worried about its potential impacts on groundwater in the area.

The final DNR report won’t be finished until sometime next week, but Dombroski said he was confident enough in the preliminary measurements to issue the stop work order. 

He said it isn’t known yet whether Nelson, Wood and Glass will face penalties in addition to whatever reclamation is eventually required.

Work at the borrow site was a few weeks away from being finished, Nelson said. The stop work order doesn’t impact continuing work down the road at the Blossom Hill development.

“Of course we want to comply with whatever needs to be complied with,” Nelson said. “But we’re not going to let this hold us up.”

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