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Community Insights: Seeking Quiet, Residents Question a Quarry

Nestled between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Coast, Clark County, Washington, is a largely rural, forested area rich in both natural beauty and natural resources. Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the sweeping river views and bountiful fishing afforded by the Columbia and Lewis Rivers, while industrial interests are drawn by the region’s stores of volcanic rock, which has been mined and crushed into gravel and other aggregates in the Yacolt Mountain Quarry since 2002. 

Mining is seen as important to the region’s economy, yet residents worry about its impacts on the environment, their health and their quality of life. Some residents contend that the county hasn’t had adequate staff to enforce environmental compliance, and suspect the dust and silt it generates are contributing harmful pollutants to the air and groundwater. The increased mining activities have also brought noise and light to this formerly peaceful area and raised the risk of landslides and driving hazards associated with big trucks on small roads. 

Now, a proposed expansion of the quarry has brought tensions to a head. In the face of this development, the East Fork Community Coalition (EFCC), a grassroots group of residents on the East Fork of the Lewis River, is partnering with scientists to understand the environmental impacts of the mining activities—and push back to protect the place they love. 

We spoke with Marie Ogier, EFCC Secretary, about why her group is so dedicated to their mission. 

 

How would you describe Clark County to someone who has never been there?

It’s absolutely beautiful. We’re north of Portland, Oregon, just across the Columbia River, and a lot of people come to the East Fork for recreation. It’s an easy day trip. We took our kids when they were youngthat was where you hung out on a hot summer day. It has parks, wineries…it’s just a beautiful area.

 

What do you see as the unique strengths of Clark County and its community members?

It’s a really pretty area that draws a lot of people who want to protect it. The EFCC is mostly retired professionals who have lived here for many years and have very strong convictions about protecting the environment and the people that live here. We’re all devoting a lot of personal time to this because of our strong conviction that this [work] needs to be done. 

 

What do you see as its unique or surprising challenges?

The county is really struggling, and sees aggregate industry growth as a path forward economically. The struggles mean they don’t have staff to enforce their own permits. After pressure from several groups, they finally hired code enforcement officers, but they only have two for the entire county. The people that would normally protect the public are overwhelmed. They’re not bad people; they are just stretched too thin.

There’s also a real chasm between our group and other viewpoints. People are being told that we’re going after their livelihoods, and we are not. My husband worked for a mining equipment company for 35 years! We’re not against industry, growth or development, but we want this specific quarry to be brought into compliance for the protection of this river and the people living here. 

 

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about your community?

It’s a documented landslide area on both sides. Below this quarry is the river, home sites, wineries and other businesses that are destination spots. Also at the base of this quarry is a wild gene bank of steelhead and four threatened or endangered salmonid species, treasures that the county has spent more than $23 million to restore.

 

What advice would you give other groups seeking to solve a community problem?

My advice is to find other organizationslike Catchafire, Patagonia Action Works, or Taproot Foundationthat can teach you how to be effective, especially social-media wise. Catchafire helped us find three pro bono web designers so we could educate the public with the scientific data gained by our scientist contacts at Thriving Earth Exchange. Knowing what steps to take so volunteers can be more efficient is so important. A network of other people who have done grassroots activism can help, especially when we are all doing this in our spare time. 

 

What do you see as priorities to help ensure your community is a great place to live 20 years from now?

At this moment, it’s terrible. The roads are dangerous from the gravel trucks that cause accidents and speed, and the crusher is loud and throws off dust that travels for miles. The blasts are so loud, and happen before and after permitted hours. People are terrified even from 2 miles away. One of the farms nearby said their customers panic when a blast goes off. There is rock, sand and debris coming down so hard they have to go indoors. Children wait for school buses on winding, narrow quarry roads. 

The peaceful livability of this valley is being destroyed, and it is just such a beautiful area. I wish you could see the moss on the trees, the views of the river and the falls. We all feel so strongly that people need to step forward to help protect this area. The quarry wants to more than double. They just bought 560 acres, and this isn’t going away unless we stop it. It’s an accident waiting to happen in so many ways. We don’t want the people to be lost, and we don’t want this river to be lost. There’s not that many of them left!

Haley McKey editor

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