Financial woes keep Lummi Island quarry from resolving permit violations

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 12, 2013 

LUMMI ISLAND - Financial troubles are compounding difficulties faced by a Lummi Island quarry that is under threat of being shut down by the Whatcom County hearing examiner for violating operating permits.

A court in Clark County ordered Lummi Rock, LLC, to pay a salvage company $274,928 plus $47,046 in interest for removing two sunken barges in 2012 from a cove at the foot of the surface mine. Ballard Salvage and Diving had disturbed oil trapped inside one of the barges, creating a spill in the cove.

Lummi Rock initially rejected the claims in the salvage company's lawsuit but did not appear in court for a summary judgment hearing. Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis agreed to grant the summary judgment on April 25.

The quarry owner's problems with creditors go even further. Aggregates West of Everson, which operates the quarry, handed over its assets on March 12 to a receiving company, Resource Transition Consultants. Receivership is an alternative to bankruptcy but is similar - creditors must line up to get paid under the direction of the receiver.

Lummi Rock, which owns the quarry, is also seeking receivership, according to the quarry's attorney, Lesa Starkenburg-Kroontje. This has caused the quarry to miss a county-imposed deadline for resolving its several permit issues, Starkenburg-Kroontje said in a May 30 letter to Bryan Sehmel in the county's code enforcement office.

"There is not anyone in a position of authority to approve these steps in time to meet the June 4, 2013 deadline," she wrote.

The county asked Lummi Rock to decide by June 4 whether it would seek to expand its mine from the current 20 acres to 47 acres, and would agree to combine that request with applications for use of an internal access road, a pier and conveyor, and a barge moorage area.

As of Tuesday, June 11, the county had not heard from Lummi Rock, planning manager Tyler Schroeder said.

Starkenburg-Kroontje did not return a call for comment.

Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink was to get a progress report on June 5 and hear Lummi Rock's appeal of a noise ordinance violation brought on by reports of the quarry working after hours. That hearing was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled.

Frustrated with Lummi Rock's multiple permit violations, Bobbink came close to shutting down the quarry in February. He has chosen instead to be patient with the quarry, which is also behind schedule on plans to control runoff and add plants to the shore.

While Lummi Rock must answer to more than a dozen violations of the work-hour rules, the operation has been mostly quiet for several months, said Meredith Moench, a neighbor of the quarry and president of the Lummi Island Conservancy.

Remarkably, there has been little if any barge traffic for months, Moench said. Most of the business conducted by the quarry has been with vendors on the island.

"The word going on around the island is that (Lummi Rock is) going out of business," Moench said. "Everybody is in a huge hurry to get gravel for their driveways."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2289. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

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