Residents voice objections to Corps of Engineers' plans to blast rock near Clearwater CreekNASELLE RIVER, Wash. - It would be "insane" for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reopen the Naselle Quarry, according to some neighbors.

The quarry, along Clearwater Creek near the Naselle River Bridge on U.S. Highway 101, would produce rock to repair jetties. But some residents are worried the project is moving too quickly and Corps biologists have underestimated potential effects on water quality, the economy, wildlife and tourism so close to Willapa Bay.

The Corps issued a public notice for the proposal Nov. 2 and is taking public comments through Dec. 2.

"It's kind of insane," said Douglas Kess, who lives on Government Road along with his wife, Karen, and neighbors Jill Merrill and Dennis Wilson.

The quarry is located on Weyerhaeuser land, but the Corps retains the rights to the rock. It was used in 1946 to produce rock for Jetty "A" construction in the Columbia River and has been used for repairs at local small boat harbors. The Corps wants to produce rock for jetty repairs, beginning next year.

The proposal includes expanding the site from 1.5 to 10 acres, necessitating the removal of 375,000 cubic yards of material, mostly western hemlocks and dirt, and relocating it directly across Clearwater Creek to an old 5-acre clear-cut site. About 10 acres of western hemlock would be logged. According to the draft environmental assessment, bulldozers, excavators, and dump trucks would be required to remove the material.

The Corps anticipates removing more than "a million cubic yards of rock," during a 20-year or more period.

To accomplish this goal, engineers plan to reroute 4,000 to 5,000 feet (nearly a mile) of gravel road, and lower the elevation of the road from 250 feet to 170 feet.

Explosives would be used to extract the rock. According to the draft environmental statement, "an average shot may produce noise on the order of 120 decibels at a distance of 200 feet." That decibel level is approximately equivalent to a jet plane. Blasting would occur "no more than a couple of times during a week."

The extracted rock for the jetties would be trucked down Government Road, across U.S. Highway 101 along Willapa Bay to Ilwaco.

The Corps' application describes its own studies that have shown no significant environmental impacts on bull trout, marbled murrelets, bald eagles and northern spotted owls. "The area in general is remote and provides habitat for a variety of migrant, nesting, wintering and permanent resident birds and a variety of mammals, including game species such as black-tailed deer," the Corps notes.

This does not satisfy neighbors, whose concerns go beyond wild critters. "So far the Corps has not moved forward to an environmental impact statement, even though it seems that the water quality degradation and truck traffic would affect both our quality of life and local economy," Douglas Kess said.

Neighbors believe Government Road, which runs along the bay, would have to be widened and reinforced to accommodate the gravel trucks. Right now, the road has a 10-ton weight limit. They estimate a fully-loaded gravel truck could exceed 25 tons.

They also find it hard to believe that such a sizable project would not cause silt in Clearwater Creek and hurt the small watershed. They worry about landslides as well in the steep terrain. So far, the Corps' plans have not been finalized for creek preservation, but may include silt fences and hay bales, according to Corps' biologist Steve Helm.

Wilson, a former oysterman, has concerns about water quality. Clearwater Creek cuts a steep, narrow canyon through the watershed and empties directly into Willapa Bay. There are oyster and clam beds on either side of the creek.

He said the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association is concerned. The group said it is not an issue of "not in my back yard," but members are worried their properties could be condemned as a result of the project.

"It's broader than that," said Karen Kess.

"It affects everybody," agreed Merrill.

The opponents are concerned about how the project would affect tourism, especially in the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial year. Most of the jetty repair work - and the truck traffic - would occur during the spring and summer. They wonder how compatible those large trucks and vacationers' RVs would be on the twisty Highway 101.

They worry about the impression that large trucks rumbling through Ilwaco would give new visitors. In addition, the large scar of the quarry and stripped hillside would be easily visible from Willapa Bay.

Long Beach Peninsula merchants have been encouraging bird watchers to visit and spend money around the Willapa Bay. The Audubon Society often conducts bird counts near Clearwater Creek, and the Nature Conservancy of Washington has purchased land not far from the quarry site. After an intensive spartina eradication program, waterfowl are returning to the Naselle River and Clearwater Creek.

The group is concerned that reopening the quarry will totally change the environment and hurt privately owned quarries such as Lodestone and Templin, while adding costs to Pacific County for road maintenance.

"We're not against repairing the levy," said Karen Kess, "but we do want this to be done appropriately."

Elizabeth Long is a Chinook Observer staff writer

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