August 17, 1998
Historical mining allegation does not meet DDES requirements
King County Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) appears to be reluctant to issue a decision on the Albergs application to mine sand and gravel from a proposed site located along State Highway 203 between Duvall and Carnation, approximately one mile south of the 124th Avenue bridge over the Snoqualmie River. The Albergs have been insisting that they have the right to mine up to about 120 acres under a Legal Non-Conforming (LNC) use designation provided them in the County's Comprehensive Growth Management Plan in 1995.
Novelty Neighbors, a group of nearby property owners and other concerned citizens in Snoqualmie Valley who have been fighting the proposed mine, indicated to Executive Ron Sims and the County Council that the LNC map notation was in error because the Albergs could not substantiate their allegation of previous commercial mining activity, and that LNC sites were reserved for mineral sites that had prior active permits. The Albergs state that most of their mining operations took place in the 1960s and 70s in a period which would have required county permits. However, the Albergs never had a permit to mine. In November 1997, the County Council changed the erroneous LNC map notation to Potential Mineral Resource Site. The Albergs appealed the Council's decision to the State Growth Management Hearings Board. However, the Board ruled on April 17, 1998 and on July 29, 1998 against the Albergs on all three of their legal issues. In particular, the Board ruled that Albergs' property rights were not affected by the LNC map change, and that DDES determines LNC use. That State Board previously ruled against the Albergs in September 1995 on related issues when they insisted that the County compensate them for taking away their right to mine on agriculturally zoned lands.
Meanwhile, DDES has been sitting on the Albergs' formal application for over eight months. The Notice of Application required the Albergs to provide extensive documentation of their prior mining operations in order to determine whether their claim of LNC use has any validity and to determine those aspects of prior permitted operations that need to be brought into conformance.
This letter was similar to a DDES letter to the Albergs in 1993, asking for the same information. In a response to DDES on January 22, 1998, Albergs' attorney did not provide the required information and stated that prior history is irrelevant and threatened to sue the County again.
Novelty Neighbors, however, provided DDES with extensive documentation (including air photographs since 1936, title records, written testimony from tenants who lived on the Albergs' property and other neighbors who never witnessed mining) contradicting Albergs' allegations of previous sand and gravel operations. The eight months of DDES inaction is well beyond typical response time and normal processing time for such applications. While the Albergs don't mind waiting several more months or years, the neighborhood and local citizens are held hostage to the pending application, which has the potential to dramatically erode the quality of life in the Valley.
For the past several years DDES has been aware of the Albergs' attempts to convert their agriculturally zoned land into a mining extravaganza without going through a re-zone process. How much longer will it take DDES to convince themselves that the substance of Albergs' allegation is missing and that their claim of historical mining does not meet their own requirements?
Perhaps the County does not have enough experience in rejecting applications from big developers.
Jim Eldridge, Duvall