Amendments to Surface Mining rules considered

We had a work session on amendments to surface mining permitting processes and mineral resource land designation criteria at a meeting last month. On October 23rd, we will have a hearing on these changes. The Sept 23 agenda materials are HERE

The purpose of designating Mineral Resource land is to let current and future land owners know that there are valuable mineral resources under the surface, and to discourage development of that land that would be incompatible with future mining. However, Whatcom County has defined it’s mineral resource lands by identifying the current, active mining permits only. This means that Whatcom County has no Mineral Resource Land (MRL) in reserve for future mining.

It also means designating a new parcel a MRL has become synonymous with an application to actually mine that parcel. But MRL designation is not a “right to mine”, the way agricultural or forest zoned land is. The owner must always make a separate application to begin mining which most likely requires a public process.

Because of the above-mentioned confusion about what MRL designation is, the only applications in recent decades to designate new MRL became a fight over whether that particular parcel should be mined. And public opposition killed both applications.

The two competing proposals before the PC are attempts to fix the process so that Whatcom County can actually designate some more MRL for future (sand, gravel, hard rock) needs. Exhibit A was written by Carl Weimer and Barbara Brenner, and includes combining some aspects of the MRL designation with the environmental studies that are required for the mining permit itself. Exhibit B is the proposal that emerged from the Surface Mining Advisory Committee (SMAC) after considering the Weimer/Brenner proposal. The differences are detailed in the agenda materials.

I’m not convinced either will really address the problem we have. We have no Mineral Resource Land in reserve for future needs, and continuing to designate new parcels piecemeal will also continue the situation that focuses the discussion on the appropriateness of mining on that particular parcel. When this happens, we don’t have the big picture where we can say “what other land would be more appropriate for mining?” Whatcom County has done some analysis of mineral resources (see links below) but have not taken these forward to designate MRLs.

The Commission asked for more information, and here’s what we got:
Final SMAC Report from 2004
Comparison of Designation of Mineral Resources
Mineral Resources Background Report-Whatcom Co, 1994
 Snohomish Co Comp Plan-Land Use Element  
Skagit Co Comp Plan Land Use Element
Also an Aggregate Resource Inventory Study, 2003, that was too big to upload.

District 3 Position Application Deadline October 21st

We need to find a new Commissioner to represent District 3 (mainly west of the Guide) to help us with the important work of updating the 20-year Comprehensive Plan. For those of you in the 1st District, we have two seats expiring in January.
If you are interested, don’t hesitate to call me at 319-8287 to discuss any questions you have. The application deadline is 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. Nomination and appointment are scheduled for Tuesday, October 28 at the regular evening Council meeting. DETAILS

My Impressions of Town Hall on Comp Plan Update

The Whatcom County Planning Commission hosted a town hall meeting to present to the publi an overview of what the Comprehensive Plan update will involved, and get general comments from the public before we start the 2-year process.  Project information is available on the County website. Written comments are HERE. Comments were dominated by the theme of family-wage jobs, protecting and expanding industrial jobs at Cherry Point, how long individual speakers’ families have lived in Whatcom County, and lamenting that children can’t find jobs here in Whatcom County.
I want to get this out to remind you about the deadline for the vacancy, so I’m not gong to elaborate on my thoughts now, but will next time, and at the PC meeting this Thursday.

Next County Council meeting October 28
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule