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Neighbors troubled by Glacier’s construction

Susan Ross and her dog Snoop enjoy a game of fetch on Gold Beach. Glacier’s floating red crane looms in the distance. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Susan Ross and her dog Snoop enjoy a game of fetch on Gold Beach. Glacier’s floating red crane looms in the distance.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

Sandy Shores, a string of modest homes on the eastern rim of Maury Island, is a refuge for many of its residents, some of whom have saved for years to be able to live in a place perched on the water.

Residents describe it as a close-knit community, separated from the rest of Maury Island by a dramatic madrona-studded forest and a long, steep hill.

Now, many of the residents are reeling from the latest developments in the decade-long fight over an industrial-sized mining operation on land just to the community’s north.

Only a few weeks after Glacier Northwest got its green light, their world has changed considerably: When they step out onto their porches, residents see an industrial red behemoth, a crane that can be heard toiling as it floats on the water.

“It’s not the crane that’s the problem,” explained Sandy Shores resident Devon Atkins. “It’s what the crane represents.”

It is setting the stage, in fact, for something much larger — the construction of a 305-foot, barge-loading pier. Once completed, the pier will operate 12 hours a day, five days a week, emptying tons of gravel onto barges by way of a long conveyer belt tucked inside a huge tube.

Many Islanders have worked hard to stave off the construction project and mining operation, led largely by Preserve Our Islands, a Vashon-based group.

But few are affected as much as two waterfront communities — Sandy Shores to the south of Glacier’s site and Gold Beach to the north.

When work began Dec. 5 at the waterfront site, a part of the state’s Maury Island Aquatic Reserve, many residents of the nearby communities said they felt betrayed, but they weren’t ready to give up hope that work could still be halted.

“To see that big business is so overpowering and could overpower the environmental issues here, it’s disappointing,” said Sandy Shores resident Jean-Claude Estevenin. “We are hoping the will of the people may be able to stop this.”

At the same time, few were surprised by the news.

“I feel dismayed and disgusted,” said Susan Ross, who has lived in Gold Beach near its beachfront community club for three years.

She said she’s happy to live in a place and gather for friendly neighborhood meetings. Glacier, however, is an ever-present issue for those who live there, she said.

Sandy Shores, too, is an unassuming area — one where a new family with school-age kids was cause for celebration for some and where “everybody loves each other,” Atkins said.

When one Sandy Shores resident got cancer, her neighbors took turns walking her dog. And when Atkins takes a stroll with her mother in a wheelchair, everyone comes out of their houses to say hello.

Residents of both communities say they aren’t looking forward to the disruption that the construction and barge-loading at Glacier will bring. They’re worried about the impact a large-scale mining operation will have on their lives and homes. But some are even more worried how mining will affect the creatures that call Puget Sound home.

“What right have they to mine below the water table?” Ross said. “What right have they to build a dock over Puget Sound, where there is some of the most variations of saltwater life in the world?”

Some neighbors are concerned that, with Glacier more active in their neighborhood, their very way of life will be altered.

“This is heaven — it’s paradise,” said Donna Gering, sitting in an armchair in the living room of her waterfront Gold Beach home, where picture windows neatly frame Glacier’s stripped hillside and derelict dock.

“We listen to wildlife and birds,” said her husband Steve Gering, who frequently bird watches from his deck. “Once this starts, we’ll be listening to industrial noise. It’s going to be a constant source of visual and noise pollution — plus whatever airborne contaminants are stirred up.”

Many Gold Beach and Sandy Shores residents have fought hard against Glacier’s mining operation, contributing money and energy to Preserve Our Islands; several came out two weeks ago to a protest at the site.

For the Gerings, Glacier has been an issue since they bought their home six years ago. The duo were still living in Dallas at the time and found the Maury home on the Internet.

When they bought the house, Donna said, Glacier “was way downplayed.” But when the Gerings retired three years ago and moved full-time to Gold Beach, they found out more about Glacier’s presence on Maury Island and soon joined the fight to oppose its proposed expansion.

The Gerings met with the president of Preserve Our Islands and learned about the impact an active industrial mine could have on the environment and their neighborhood. They became members of the nonprofit organization and hosted fundraising dinners at their home.

They wrote letters to every local legislator who had jurisdiction over the issue, asking them to bar Glacier’s planned operations on Maury. And they became active in their community association, of which Steve is now vice-president.

When Public Lands Comm-issioner Doug Sutherland gave Glacier the green light to construct its sprawling pier over aquatic reserve waters, the Gerings were furious.

“We can’t build a boathouse; we can’t build a dock or a bulkhead,” Donna said. “We can’t do anything because we have to preserve our waterfront, and then they can come in and mine?”

The Gerings noted that, as relative newcomers to the neighborhood, they have been energized in their opposition to the corporate giant. However, it seemed some of their peers had ceased struggling against Glacier even before state Sutherland gave it a lease to proceed this month.

“There’s really a sense of apathy,” Steve said. “This has taken so many years that they just seem to have given up. It just has worn everybody out.”

The descent into either beachfront neighborhood on the eastern flank of Maury Island is dramatic. The roads connecting seafront homes with their neighbors on the bluffs are hewn from the hillsides themselves. And the panoramic views, which have already begun to transform, will continue to do so.

“I was so surprised to look outside and see the barge already,” said Sandy Shores resident Elaine Carleton. “We all looked out and saw this big barge, and we thought, ‘Wow. So soon?’”

Atkins said the first time she drove into Sandy Shores at night after the red crane was put in place at Glacier, she was shocked. Instead of seeing “nothing,” she saw the crane’s running lights, illuminating the metal structure and the water around it.

Atkins lives with her mother in one of the homes closest to Glacier’s site. She can hear the whirring of the industrial crane from the house’s deck.

She said she worries about her homebound mother, who relies on income from a reverse mortgage on her Sandy Shores home. With property values expected to fall because of Glacier’s increased presence on Maury, she’s uncertain if her mother’s financial situation will remain solvent.

“I worry about the animals, too,” Atkins said. “The whales, I know that’s their feeding area. But all the animals — the layers of life that depend on each other.”

Her mother, June Schwarzbeck, has lived in her Sandy Shores home for more than 20 years. Atkins said she’s one of the youngest residents of the neighborhood, and her children have left home. Sandy Shores means a great deal to her, her mother and her children, she said. She choked up as she spoke.

“You have your life, and different disasters might happen, but you always count on your home and your community to be your rock,” she said.

“This upsets that. It kills me how hard some people have worked on this, and now money’s won in the end.”

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