Bill to fast-track gravel mining project dies

OLYMPIA — A Senate bill to fast-track approval of a gravel mining project near Hood Canal stalled this week amid opposition from lawmakers convinced it would speed up permitting of a controversial coal export facility in Whatcom County.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said his Senate Bill 5805 sought to simply bring the gravel mining operation under a state law allowing expedited permitting of major industrial projects.

But environmental groups said the bill’s wording was broad enough to also enable speedier approval of other mega-projects such as the coal export pier at Cherry Point.

The bill died Wednesday when the Senate failed to act on it by a 5 p.m. deadline.

Had it come up for a vote, there were 16 proposed amendments to be debated, including three by Hobbs.

“I’m disappointed it didn’t go. I thought with the amendments I proposed it was a pretty balanced bill,” Hobbs said. “We’ll try again next year.”

Senate Bill 5805 involved an existing law promoting projects deemed to have a statewide significance. The original wording broadly expanded the definition of eligible projects. Hobbs later sought to rewrite it to make clear it would only apply to the gravel mining project.

“When communities and local leaders realized that this legislation would have silenced their voices on projects that had big impacts on their communities, they spoke up — loudly and quickly,” said Beth Doglio, executive director of the Power Past Coal Coalition, an alliance of civic and environmental groups opposed to the Whatcom County project.

“We will continue to watch this issue closely between now and the end of the legislative session,” she said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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