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Kitsap Lake gravel mine foes kick up a backlash
Jack Stanfill is not ready to give up his fight.
Although Kitsap County Superior Court ruled in February that the county hearing examiner’s approval of a proposed gravel mine project west of Kitsap Lake near his neighborhood is sound, he and other residents are finding ways to continue their plight — hopefully through a county commissioner or the state.
“We need some questions answered,” said Stanfill, who resides on Northlake Way in Central Kitsap. “We have some concerns about the process.”
Last Wednesday, Concerned Citizens of Chico Creek Water Basin, the group of neighbors opposed to the gravel mine project including Stanfill, had a meeting with Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown discussing their ongoing concerns.
In June, the group also submitted a complaint to the state Attorney General’s Office about a potential conflict of interest within the project advisor’s role with the Ueland Tree Farm Mineral Resource Development project.
The project proposes creating a gravel mine and rock quarries west of Kitsap Lake.
Craig Ueland, owner of Ueland Tree Farm, first proposed the 152-acre mining operation at his farm back in 2006.
From the beginning, neighbors like Stanfill have been wary of the project because of environmental concerns — mainly pollution and noise — to their neighborhood as well as surrounding wildlife.
The proposed project is located near two wildlife corridors.
“Animals can’t catch a bus at Gorst and go up to Wildcat Lake,” Stanfill said.
Stanfill said the county’s final approved environmental impact analysis ignored a wetland that includes the headwaters of Dickerson Creek. Dickerson Creek is one of the tributaries to Chico Creek.
Although the county Superior Court concluded in February that the hearing examiner’s approval of the project is valid, Stanfill said the group wants the county to consider doing a supplemental environmental impact statement.
Brown said that commissioners do not have the power to seek another environmental impact statement since the final one has already been approved by the hearing examiner — it would go against state law to do so. However, the residents’ concern of having dump trucks travel on Northlake Way rather than at the southern end of the area was made clear to Brown. He plans to send a letter to Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent to see if the city will work with Ueland to have a southern access. Currently, the city owns nearby land that trucks would have to bypass through.
“We can’t mandate or require, but we can point out that it might make sense for the community to have it in the south,” Brown said, adding that even if the city of Bremerton decides to work with Ueland, the county cannot force him to make that change to the southern access.
Ueland’s project advisor, Mark Mauren, said that there would be a significant increase in cost to make that change to the south and that not only are there parcels owned by the city, but also by private owners which they would also have to work with. He added that there is the environmental side to look at too, with a wildlife corridor on the south end.
Conflict of interest
The group’s concerns also include Mauren himself. They believe there may be a conflict of interest in Mauren’s position with the project.
They contend the project advisor of the gravel mine project, Mauren, is in a position of conflict of interest because of his employment with the state Department of Natural Resources while also working on the side with Ueland, Stanfill said. Mauren works full time as an assistant division manager of recreation for the department and assists Ueland on the weekends or evenings.
At the county hearing, Mauren did not state he works for the department, which the neighborhood group sees as unethical. Since the gravel mine project has passed county hurdles, all that remains is getting a reclamation permit from the state Department of Natural Resources.
“What’s happening is deceitful. And the county is in tune with them,” said John Mikesell, who has lived on Northlake Way for 45 years.
The state law that governs outside activities indicates that no state officer or employee may engage in business or professional activity “that is in conflict with the proper discharge of the state officer’s or state employee’s official duties.”
Bryan Flint, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the department follows state laws when it comes to dealing with employees who participate in outside activities that may lead to conflict of interests. But, because Mauren has no authority in decision-making on the regulation of surface mining with the department, there is no current conflict of interest, he said.
“I don’t know how common it is, but it happens. People have hobbies and side jobs they engage in all the time,” Flint said.
Stanfill received an email July 6 from the attorney general’s senior assistant stating that should the group think there is a violation of ethics, the group may submit a complaint to the state Executive Ethics Board.
Melanie de Leon, executive director of the board said that based on state laws, there does not appear to be a conflict of interest violation by Mauren.
Even if there was an ethics violation, the board has no power to stop the gravel mine project.
“Even if for some reason they did find it an ethics violation, it wouldn’t stop the gravel mine from going in,” she said, adding that the board has no authority to stop the project from continuing and at most would only be able to fine Mauren should an ethics violation be determined. One violation can cost up to $5,000, she said.
Stanfill and Mikesell think that Mauren should have stated that he was a state worker for the department during the county hearing, Stanfill said, adding that by not doing so, it looks like there is something to hide.
Mauren, who has been working with the department for 29 years, said that the county is aware of his day job and he never stated it at the hearing because he was not asked.
“It’s not a secret. It never intended to be a secret,” Mauren said.
Because Mauren works on the proprietary side of things with the department, he never deals with regulatory issues that the gravel mine project falls under. Even so, Stanfill and Mikesell believe it was deceitful for Mauren to not formally say he is employed by the state department.
But by not speaking up, it’s not breaking any laws.
“There’s nothing in ethics law that says he had to disclose that he works for the state,” de Leon said.
Ueland said that he and Mauren have nothing to hide and that everything has been through an honest process and that the county has not found anything wrong with what they plan to do.
Rock and gravel is a commodity for construction projects but Ueland said that with the housing market down, he isn’t ready to begin the project too soon. No matter when they start, it will be a 50-year project, he added.
“The demand isn’t at a peak now,” Ueland said. “It’s prudent of us to launch the operation in an up-turn.”
Although the start of the project will begin when the economy picks up, Ueland said they will monitor the wetlands to establish base flows between the summer and winter. This way, should there be any impact to the wetlands because of the project, they will be aware of it and attempt to mitigate it, he said. He also has plans to communicate with neighbors and hold public meetings on the progress of the project — especially the widening of Northlake Way so that trucks can pass through, he said.
“We’re committed to being good neighbors and responsible stewards to the land,” Ueland said.
Stanfill and Mikesell do not think it is good enough and feel that the county has overlooked several areas of the project including affects to wetlands and a conflict of interest in Mauren’s position.
“We want someone to take an honest look at what’s going on,” Stanfill said.