Following more than five hours of public testimony on Thursday, residents of the Livingston Mountain area of Camas got the response they were hoping for from the Clark County Planning Commission.
The room erupted in applause as the commissioners voted 5-0 to remove all Livingston Mountain area land parcels from the proposed surface mining overlay map, and require a traffic study. Two other significant areas, Bell Mountain and Yacolt Mountain were also removed.
During the past month, Livingston Mountain residents have formed two non-profit groups — Citizens Alliance of Livingston Mountain and Friends of Livingston Mountain — in opposition to the proposed surface mining overlay update. More than 200 people turned out at the public hearing, which was continued from September.
Bob Pond, a Camas public health physician, is president of C.A.L.M.
“This is an important residential area,” Pond said. “It has the same characteristics as any area within urban growth area boundaries. It has numerous, hundreds of households — some of the finest in Clark County. It has school bus stops and road maintenance needs.
“I would implore you as you think about the economics of Clark County, [to remember] it is more than gravel production,” he continued. “It is these homes and these homeowners you see behind you.”
Primary concerns expressed by residents have included traffic safety, water quality and quantity, decreased property values, as well as the visual impacts of adding more rock quarry operations to the ones that already exist in the area.
Pond described the surface mining overlay mapping process as “deeply flawed,” citing inconsistent and narrow criteria.
The proposed surface mining overlay map is part of an update being conducted for Clark County’s mineral resource lands regulations.
Counties planning under the Growth Management Act are required to identify, designate and protect mineral resource lands that are not already characterized by urban growth and that have long-term significance for the extraction of minerals.
A Mineral Lands Task Force met 13 times between November 2011 and August 2013 to develop the recommendations for updating the SMO map, policies and standards.
During the Oct. 17 public hearing, Jayne Siroshton, who lives on Northeast Spud Mountain Road, asked the planning commission to consider how future mining operations would impact Livingston Mountain’s residential areas.
“It’s not just about identifying land,” she said of the mapping process. “It’s also about looking at the compatibility of land use. That’s what planning is all about.”
Amy Hansen, who lives on Northeast Hancock Road, stressed the critical nature of what the planning commission and ultimately the Clark County Commission are being tasked to do.
“This is a comprehensive planning tool,” she said. “The map is not just a map change. You are setting policy for our county for the next 20 years. You are looking at setting aside lands for mineral resources. You are making long-term policy plans for our county.”
Mining operations that currently exist in the Livingston Mountain and nearby areas weresharply criticized several times during public testimony for not abiding by set rules, guidelines and standards. Hansen and several others also suggested that a mining ombudsmen position be created, so that the public would have a point of contact so that issues and complaints could be heard, addressed and tracked.
“We can’t do anything about the existing quarry, but expanding it would not be good for the mountain, for the environment, for the safety of our people or the value of our property,” said Conrad Clark of Camas.
Issues surrounding insufficient roads to handle mining truck traffic was brought up several times during the hearing. Jack Kane, who lives on Northeast 67th Avenue in Camas, said the Livingston Mountain streets see a variety of users, from commercial vehicles and garbage trucks to mail carriers, school buses and residential traffic, in addition to walkers, runners and bicyclists.
“The traffic is dense,” he said. “The road widths are not sufficient in many areas to support the engineer’s specification of road width. We feel that you, as a planning commission, have got to do your due diligence and understand the impact that the current mining operation has.”
A traffic study completed by Clark County in September determined that roadway corridors in the Livingston Mountain area — specifically Hancock Road and Livingston Mountain Road — are “unsuitable for truck traffic.”
“The grades along the corridor and the lack of available line of sight, around the sharp curves, between approaching vehicles further add to the corridor’s unsuitability for heavy truck traffic, from traffic safety and operations points of view,” state the report from Traffic Engineer Ejaz Khan’s report.
In addition to testimony from dozens of people, a petition signed by 200 people opposed to including Livingston Mountain on the SMO map was also presented to the commission.
Camas resident Jenny Howd said failing to remove Livingston Mountain from the SMO map could severly impact the quality of life of the area’s residents.
“Once you identify the resources, you are opening the barn door, and once the barn door is open we will be constantly fighting permits,” Howd said. “They will go after permit, after permit, after permit.
“We need you guys to realize it’s not fair to us,” she continued. “We have spent so much money turning our houses into home. Putting a mine in will destroy it all.”
Planning Commissioner Jim Gizzi said he could empathize with the concerns of Livingston Mountain residents.
“[The SMO map] is not a rubber stamp, but it’s certainly the first step,” he said. “That’s the part you’re living under and worry about. The first step has been made and you’re labeled on the map.”
Planning Commission Chairman Ronald Barca said mining and residential land uses should never have been placed so close together.
“It’s truly my opinion that the county failed the citizens by either siting the mine or allowing the housing and this density to be in conjunction with each other,” he said. “The situation within your neighborhood should not exist, but it does.”
While public comment on the SMO map was closed, the hearing to address the procedures and criteria for changing the surface mining overlay, as well as mineral lands comprehensive plan policies would remain open. The Planning Commission will hold a work session on Nov. 7, at 5:30 p.m. and then a public hearing on Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m., Both meetings will be held at the Public Service Center sixth floor hearing room, 1300 Franklin St., in Vancouver..
The Clark County Planning Commission will make the final decision to approve the Surface Mining Overlay map as recommended by the Planning Commission, or with changes.