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St. Helens scrutinizes proposal to remove bluff

Opponent: Proposal violates anti-mining ordinance


by: MARK MILLER - This basalt outcropping at North 10th Street in St. Helens would be graded down to street level under a proposal by S St. Helens LLC.A rocky bluff in St. Helens would be removed to make way for a subdivision under a proposal being considered by the city planning department.

But an opponent of the proposal contends it is a thinly veiled effort to skirt around a city ordinance that prohibits mining in residential areas.

Don Parrett, who lives next to the bluff that rises above North 10th and 12th streets, said the grading of the bluff would generate dust, noise and traffic and could damage nearby properties.

“There’s a lot of issues with this,” said Parrett, adding, “Where would this stop? Would we mine the rest of St. Helens, all the outcrops in St. Helens? ... Some of the rocky outcrops like this is what gives St. Helens its character, makes it what it is.”

City planner Jacob Graichen has given preliminary approval for a sensitive lands permit, needed because the area that S St. Helens LLC seeks to develop after removing the bluff is adjacent to wetlands. The public comment period for that land use decision ends at the close of business Monday, July 22.

The bluff is composed of some 500,000 cubic yards of basalt, a hard rock with commercial and industrial applications. Graichen acknowledged that the rock “has some value,” suggesting the developer may sell it to offset the costs of the bluff’s removal and the subdivision planned for the area.

But asked whether the operation is mining, as Parrett asserts, Graichen hesitated.

“That’s a good question,” said Graichen. “What state law says is mining is 5,000 cubic yards. This being [one hundred] times that much, you could clearly argue that it’s mining. And so what makes mining not allowed here is zoning. Mining’s allowed in our heavy industrial zone — nowhere else. This is a residential area. So mining is a clear zoning violation, clearly not allowed. Where it gets a little — and I don’t want to speak too soon, because we’re in the middle of a pending decision — but it gets to the legal matter of what constitutes mining and what doesn’t.”

Graichen concluded, “Ultimately, it becomes our call as the local jurisdiction. And in this case, if it’s mining, if it’s found to be mining, you know, you can’t do it.”

Graichen said he will “probably” issue a revised land use decision.

“This does not talk about mining in it,” Graichen said of his written preliminary decision, which went out as a notice to local property-owners on July 8. “I need to figure out, given the issues that have been raised, what kind of a revised decision I make on that.”

St. Helens city code also provides for a land use decision to be appealed to the Planning Commission. Graichen said in cases where there is a lot of controversy about a decision, an appeal tends to be more likely.

Meanwhile, Parrett said he wants planners to do right by him.

“They need to do their job and say that this is mining, pure and simple,” said Parrett.

Parrett asked rhetorically, “You have to ask yourself, if you lived in that neighborhood, how would you feel about it?”

Attempts to reach Sam Sarich, who is listed as the principal agent for S St. Helens LLC, for comment were unsuccessful.