By Pat Jenkins

The Dispatch

A proposed rock and gravel-mining operation may get a bumpy reception when it’s the subject of a public hearing next week in Eatonville.

The hearing, scheduled for April 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Eatonville High School, is on Randles Sand and Gravel’s plan to remove quarry rock, gravel, sand and topsoil from an area just north of Eatonville. A final environmental impact statement (FEIS) has been issued by Pierce County on the company’s proposal. The hearing is another opportunity for the general public and local government entities to comment, something they’ve already been doing -- mostly in opposition.

The new Randles operation, if approved by Pierce County, would be located within 500 acres off 129th Avenue East, would be the largest of its kind in the county, and could last for 40 years. The company wants to haul material from the mining site to customers via trucks on State Route 161. Railroad tracks already in the area have been discussed for rail shipments.

The county’s Planning and Public Works Department, the agency (previously called the Planning and Land Services Department) that is reviewing Randles’ plans, issued the FEIS March 1. The document covers potential impacts the project could have on water, air quality, wildlife habitat, noise levels and traffic, and ways those impacts can be addressed. The study and public hearings are required before Randles can get myriad permits from the county and the state that are required to begin the mining operation.

Randles’ plans are unpopular. Starting last year, written comments received by the county have been virtually unanimous in their opposition to the mining operation. Letters came from individual citizens, the Town of Eatonville, and the Eatonville School District. They’ve objected to noise for people living adjacent to the project site and for schools near Lynch Creek Road East, part of the route for trucks hauling rock and gravel. There are also questions about pedestrian safety for students and the general public along that route, as well as impacts on traffic.

Terry Van Eaton, a resident and business owner on Lynch Creek Road, said the thousands of truck trips over the course of any given year will be a hindrance to other motorists and the safety of nearby schools. He also questioned the ability of the bridge to hold up under the weight of fully loaded trucks.

"If we let them (Randles) get away with this, we've done a terrible thing," Van Eaton said.

Eatonville resident Sharon Burlingame, writing to the county, said she's concerned about "extreme numbers of trucks traveling daily on Lynch Creek Road (and) altering the lifestyle of this area."

Town officials have told the county that they’re worried about the amount of truck traffic and its affect on roadways and existing vehicle loads.

Some critics of the Randles project have questioned whether an existing bridge on Lynch Creek Road can withstand the pounding of heavy, fully loaded trucks.

County officials have said the bridge is adequate. But they have called for a smoother roadway where it meets the span in order to “avoid trucks bouncing across the bridge.”

The county also said the intersection of SR-161 and Lynch Creek Road needs to be widened and to have left-turn lanes built before Randles can begin sending trucks in and out of the proposed new quarry.

Other issues include environmental concerns that have been raised by project opponents. Among them are potential impacts to groundwater supplies for homes on Ski Park Road.

Adonais Clark, senior planner in the county’s Planning and Public Works Department, said there are no “substantial changes” in the final environmental impact statement versus the preliminary or draft EIS.

The hearing in Eatonville is one of two next week on the Randles project. The other will be held in Tacoma on April 19 at the county annex building.

Randles, which is based in Frederickson, has been in business since 1969 as a supplier of sand, gravel and topsoil. It already owns the Lynch Creek Quarry near Eatonville on 419th Street Court East. The quarry is the source of basalt rock for rockeries that the company trucks as far away as Oregon and Idaho.