South Maury Island Environmental Issues - Gravel Mining On Maury Island

Gravel Mining On Maury Island

The primary environmental issue on Maury Island is Glacier Northwest's proposal to expand its gravel mine, located in the southern part of the island. Glacier Northwest has operated the mine on the island since the 1940s, but in 1998 it announced its proposal to expand the operation to approximately 7.5 million tons of gravel a year. According to Glacier Northwest senior executives in a presentation at the University of Washington in April 2005, the expansion of its South Maury Island mine is in the interest of the Pacific Northwest as a whole. They claim Washington uses approximately 75 million tons of gravel and sand per year; seven tons per person, per year. The Seattle/Tacoma area uses 48% of all sand and gravel, making the South Maury Island site centrally located for supplying this demand. They estimate economic growth in the Puget Sound region between 2000-2020 will require an additional 22 million tons of gravel per year. They claim that Washington, and particularly the Seattle/Tacoma area, may benefit from an expansion of local sand and gravel mines. There is also potential for the construction of a third runway at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that would require large quantities of sand and gravel. Many people believe that South Maury Island is one of the most sensitive places to mine due to the amount of wildlife the area supports; however, Glacier Northwest claims that mining on the island and barging the gravel off the site will have fewer environmental impacts than would mining somewhere else and transporting the gravel by truck. Grassroots efforts and litigation have managed to postpone the proposed expansion yet.

Preserve Our Islands (POI) is a volunteer, non-profit organization committed to preserving all aspects of life and the environment on Vashon Island and Maury Island, and is opposed to Glacier Northwest's proposal to expand its gravel mine. According to Glacier Northwest's website, it is the largest supplier of aggregate in the Pacific Northwest, creating a need for it to continuously extract aggregate so that it can remain the largest supplier. POI claims that if Glacier Northwest continues to expand, nearly ten percent of Maury Island will be affected. They also argue that the near shore location of the gravel pit will endanger the eelgrass habitat, which is vital for salmon to spawn. POI also argues that toxins will contaminate the island's only source of drinking water and will affect the residents as well. It hopes that its grassroots efforts will stop Glacier Northwest's expansion.

Glacier Northwest's proposed mining expansion has stirred response in the government. U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, has pushed measures for economic development and environmental and public safety initiatives throughout Washington, one of which concerns the conservation of Maury Island. Providing approximately $2 million, this bill would contribute to the goal of local organizations, such as POI, of preserving the threatened 250 acres (1 km²) that are home to the state’s largest Madrona forests, as well as its shoreline habitats. By incorporating funds from local, state, and private sources, this bill would promote responsible, cost efficient local stewardship.

Among the key figures in the conflict is former Washington Governor Booth Gardner, also a member of Preserve Our Islands. In a presentation given at the University of Washington for the Society and Oceans course 103 on April 26, 2005, Gardner expressed his support for POI and his personal philosophy on understanding both sides of the South Maury Island/Glacier Northwest mining issue and acknowledging the importance of one’s personal view and the opponent’s stance. While he has expressed hopes of the community purchasing the land from Glacier Northwest in order to stop the expansion, he does recognize the relevance of compromise and the reality of the situation. Gardner was joined by King County Council member Dow Constantine, who has strongly advocated the protection of salmon, expressing the possible negative impacts Glacier Northwest’s expansion could have on the threatened species. In his view, putting the salmon in further danger would be a step backwards in the policies and funds currently implemented for protection.

Gravel mining by Glacier Northwest on Maury Island does have some advantages. Glacier Northwest is a large company with twelve sites, other than south Maury Island, from which aggregates are mined in Washington and Oregon. Actively mining the Maury Island site would provide a small number of jobs for people on the island and in surrounding areas, while its operations are estimated to continue for the next 20 to 30 years, depending on business and demand. Additionally, the aggregate resources do not produce much waste material when mined, and are therefore beneficial and cost effective for the region. The sand, gravel, and quarry rock from the Maury Island site would be distributed throughout the Pacific Northwest region to be used for building roadways and houses, creating concrete, and making other products such as roof tiles and cement blocks.

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