Curry County sent out a highly deceitful public notice in June 2019 that merely said, “A request for a conditional use approval for the mining and processing of aggregate” on a parcel zoned for Timber. The Notice only mentioned the size of the parcel involved (320 acres), which tells one nothing about the size of the aggregate quarry.
It was only upon looking at the staff report, which had to be specifically requested, that ORCA and local residents discovered that this proposal was for a gigantic mega-quarry that would completely ruin an area in the upper headwaters of the Sixes River.
The actual proposal by Kiewit Infrastructure West is very far from a small-scale aggregate mine in the hills. It is instead an application for a massive quarry of Colebrook Schist for jetty stone, of the grade required by the Army Corps of Engineers. The stone is targeted for the upcoming repairs of South Jetty on the Columbia River, which begin in the spring of 2020. Stone below the Corps’ size requirements would be used for riprap, crushed stone for construction projects, and similar uses.
The quarry area – for the mining and stockpiling, and also processing and support facilities – would encompass 60 acres. For the Columbia River jetty repair project, Kiewit proposes to mine approximately 440,000 tons (!) of stone. That is right: 440,000 tons, quarried over an approximately 25-year life of the mine.
Kiewit proposes to begin with site clearing (i.e., cutting all the trees), grading about 40 acres, preparation and building a 4,200-foot access road, plus widening and paving 3.8 miles of logging road. The application notes that the access road may cross a tributary of Edson Creek, which Kiewit proposes to “relocate” to an adjacent tributary.
Creating mining areas and “establishing support facilities” would come next. This phase includes bringing in portable office structures and heavy equipment, setting up a parking area, fueling station, maintenance shops and storage facilities.
The actual mining would be a “top down” approach, beginning with a 20-acre quarry created by blasting benches – up to two blasts a day. Kiewit would take the jetty stone thus blasted out, but also stockpile “undersized” rock, to be screened and crushed for other uses. Kiewit plans to stockpile the topsoil in a 4-acre pile towards the ultimate reclamation of the quarry as required by the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. There would be a maximum of 40 loaded trucks leaving the site per day, and, presumably, an equal number of unloaded trucks and other vehicles. The trucks would take Sixes River Road to Highway 101 up to Coos Bay; from there, the boulders would be transported by barge up to the Columbia.
The application airily says that reclamation will stabilize unstable slopes, modify impervious surfaces, restore topsoil and revegetate disturbed surfaces. Unfortunately, reclamation is not nearly as simple as that, and rarely works at all on deeply disturbed sites. The nearest example of the classic reclamation failure is the scar in Coos County from the 25-acre chromite-mining venture that ended a few years ago; it sports a sparse coverage of grass on a flat graded surface. Overall, as reclamation tragedies in Appalachia further inform us, reclamation is almost always a failure, especially in profoundly disturbed areas, as this one would be.
The application was laughably simplistic, full of vague statements about reclamation goals. The 3-page geology “report,” which is seven years old, pointed out that the area near the quarry and access roads is underlain by marine sediment called the Otter Point formation, and “this formation is known for extensive earth flows and has been mapped as earthflow topography.” But there was no analysis of this alarming statement.
Curry County held an initial hearing in June 2019. The planning commission decision will be in late July. ORCA opposes this project, and will be participating vigorously in the process to protect both the land and the quiet rural community in the area from this gargantuan, and highly damaging, project.