Army Corps fast-tracks rock pit for jetty repair

NASELLE RIVER - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering reopening the Naselle Quarry along Clearwater Creek near the Naselle River Bridge on U.S. Highway 101.

But local residents are concerned the project is moving too quickly, and that the Corps has underestimated effects on water quality, the economy, wildlife, tourism, and the natural beauty of the area adjacent to Willipa Bay.

The Corps issued a public notice for the proposal on Nov. 2, and will take public comment through Dec. 2, 2004.

The quarry was last used in 1946 to produce rock for jetty "A" construction in the Columbia River. The Corps' plans on using the quarry for rock to repair the jetties, beginning in 2005.

The Corps' proposal includes expanding the quarry to from 1.5 to 10 acres, necessitating the removal of 375,000 cubic yards of "overburden," or western hemlocks and dirt, and relocating it directly across Clearwater Creek to an old five-acre clear-cut site. According to the draft environmental assessment "large construction equipment, consisting of bulldozers, excavators, and dump trucks will be required to remove the overburden material."

The Corps anticipates removing "over a million cubic yards of rock," during a 20-year or more period.

To accomplish this goal, the Corps plans on rerouting from 4,000 to 5,000 feet, or nearly a mile of gravel road, and lowering the elevation of the quarry road from 250 feet to 170 feet.

Explosives would be used to extract the rock from the quarry. According to the draft environmental statement, "an average shot may produce noise on the order of 120 decibels at a distance of 200 feet." That decibel level is approximately equivalent to a jet plane. Blasting would occur "no more than a couple of times during a week."

The extracted rock for the jetties would then be trucked down Government Road, across U.S. Highway 101 along Willipa Bay to Ilwaco.

"It's kind of insane," said Douglas Kess, who lives on Government Road along with his wife Karen and neighbors Jill Merrill and Dennis Wilson.

They are concerned that a full environmental impact statement has not been done, studying the effects of road construction as well as quarry work.

They believe Government Road, which runs right along the bay, would have to be widened and reinforced for the gravel trucks. Currently, the road has a 10-ton weight limit. They estimate a fully loaded gravel truck could exceed 25 tons.

They also find it hard to believe that such a sizable project would not silt in Clearwater Creek and devastate the small watershed. They worry about landslides as well in the steep terrain. So far, the Corps plans have not been finalized for creek preservation, but might include silt fences and hay bales, according to Corps Biologist Steve Helm.

Wilson, an ex-oysterman, has concerns about water quality. The Clearwater Creek cuts a steep, narrow canyon through the watershed and empties directly into Willapa bay. Oyster and clam beds are located on either side of the creek. He said the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association is also concerned.

The group said it is not an issue of "not in my back yard," they want to make clear, although they are worried their properties could be condemned as a result of the project.

"It's broader than that," said Karen Kess.

"It affects everybody," agreed Merrill.

They are concerned about how the project will affect tourism. Most of the jetty repair, and therefore gravel truck traffic, will occur during the spring and summer, peak tourist season. They wonder how compatible those large trucks and vacationers' RVs would be on the notoriously twisty and treacherous Highway 101.

They wonder about the impression that large trucks rumbling through Ilwaco will give to Lewis and Clark visitors seeing the area for the first time. In addition, the large scar of the quarry and stripped hillside would be easily visible from Willapa Bay.

In addition, Peninsula merchants have been interested in encouraging bird watchers to visit, and spend money, around the Willipa Bay. The Audubon Society often conducts bird counts near Clearwater Creek, and The Nature Conservancy of Washington has recently purchased land not far from the quarry site. After an intensive spartina eradication program, waterfowl are returning to the Naselle River and Clearwater Creek.

The group is concerned reopening the quarry will totally change the environment. According to the group, The Audubon Society is also concerned.

The list goes on, including impacts on privately owned quarries such as Lodestone and Templin, and costs to the county for road maintenance.

"We're not against repairing the levy," said Karen Kess, "but we do want this to be done appropriately."

Public comment should be addressed to District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer District Portlant, Attn: CENWP-PM-E, P.O. Box 2946, Portland, Ore., 97208-2946.

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