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Anti-Glacier bills appear doomed

With only a couple of days left in the legislative session, Islanders battling Glacier Northwest’s plans to dramatically increase its mining operations on Maury Island say it’s uncertain if they’ll prevail in the Legislature.

A bill that would have forced the state to consider whether Glacier actually owns the rights to the sand and gravel on its 235-acre Maury site looks like it won’t make it to the House floor, said Rep. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, who has spearheaded legislative efforts to halt Glacier.

And her effort to attach an amendment to a measure that would have required the state to hold off on issuing Glacier a lease until a study is done was defeated by way of a voice vote on the House floor on Thursday.

But last-minute legislative efforts were in full swing Tuesday in an attempt to find another way to require the state to look into the question of mineral rights ownership, Nelson said.

“As (Senate Majority Leader) Lisa Brown says, it’s not over ’til it’s over,” said Nelson.

Meanwhile, Glacier foes say they’ve found yet another hurdle the mining company has to overcome if it’s to move forward with its plans to extract sand and gravel from Maury.

According to Nelson, an environmental impact statement issued by King County says that Glacier has to dispose of the arsenic-laced soil it will be excavating into a landfill. The county’s 2006 comprehesive plan, however, prohibits a landfill above what’s called an aquifer recharge site, Nelson said.

Glacier failed to apply for a landfill permit before the 2006 changes to the county’s comprehensive plan, Nelson added.

“It’s now current law,” she said. “It’s now prohibited.”

Pete Stoltz, permit coordinator for Glacier, reached Tuesday morning, said the company does not yet know if a landfill is required.

“We’ve complied with the whole regulatory process so far,” he added. “We’ll follow through with the regulatory process on this issue and comply with all regulatory requirements.”

Last week, in an earlier interview, he said he was pleased that the House has apparently turned back efforts to derail the project.

“We’re glad that the Legislature understood the importance of this project,” he said.

Nelson, a freshman lawmaker who was appointed to fill former Rep. Joe McDermott’s term, said she was frustrated that the bill that would have forced the state to determine mining rights on Glacier’s land (SB 6777) appears dead in the House, a chamber controlled by the Democrats. The bill passed in the Senate, also controlled by the Democrats, by a 25-23 vote last month.

“I don’t want to go home and tell my constituents ... that the Democrats have decided to strip mine a small Island in Puget Sound,” she said.

Adding that the state could be giving its mineral rights away, she said, “It’s this Legislature that’s failing to do its duty.”

SB 6777, which was sponsored by McDermott, now a state senator, and several others, called on the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to delay issuing a lease to Glacier until it’s been determined whether the state owns the mineral rights on a portion of Glacier’s land.

The bill was drafted after Preserve Our Islands, an organization working to end Glacier’s proposed expansion, found evidence in the original deeds for the property that Glacier’s predecessor did not secure the mineral rights when it bought the land from the state. Glacier, however, has unearthed a different set of documents that it says shows the original owners did, in fact, obtain the mineral rights when they bought the property about 100 years ago.

The amendment Nelson sought would have also slowed the process. It would have required DNR to delay the lease until the state Department of Fish and Wildlife completes a study on the management of marine protected areas. Glacier’s old pier, as well as the new one it wants to build, would extend into state-owned and state-protected waters.

The House’s failure to pass the two measures was a disappointment to Glacier’s foes, who have sought a legislative solution to the decade-long controversy for the past two years. Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, blamed Democrats in the House.

“It was the Democrats who were working actively to kill the bill,” she said. “As I understand it, they were fairly jubilant in congratulating Glacier’s lobbyists.”

Nelson, however, said she’ll push hard to ensure that the requirement for a landfill be brought to the attention of regional leaders. She says she and other members of the 34th legislative district plan to write a letter to County Executive Ron Sims about the issue.

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