Dozens of county residents packed the Clark County Council hearing room Tuesday night as neighbors spoke out against a planned cement batch plant near their homes.
“If you look at us on a zoning map, we’re surrounded by light industrial zoning. We’re not opposed to that. However, a recent development and zoning change to ‘rail industrial’ has the neighborhood very concerned,” said Blake DeFrance of the Cedars 49 community group.
DeFrance said the county’s reversal of an August 2020 rezoning request by property owner Pioneer Industrial is opening the door to projects like a planned Knife River Corp. cement batch plant at 7511 N.E. 101st St., in unincorporated Clark County’s Sunnyside neighborhood.
Although Pioneer Industrial’s request to change from light industrial to railroad industrial was denied in 2020, the company appealed the hearings examiner ruling, which sent the matter to Superior Court. The court sent the decision back to the county after a settlement agreement was reached, and in March 2021 the hearings examiner approved the rezoning.
When asked about Knife River’s plans for the property, Knife River Communications Manager Jay Frank replied via email that, “Knife River is exploring an opportunity to better serve north Vancouver area customers by providing ready mix concrete from an industrial zoned property.”
Frank said a recent virtual neighborhood meeting was intended to share the company’s project concept and receive input from interested parties and residents.
Residents at the Tuesday council meeting said their concerns about the cement plant could be grouped into four main areas: quality of life, medical risks, environmental impacts and the process the county undertook to approve the previous rezoning.
“It’s our understanding that Knife River is planning on running the proposed plant … 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also plan to begin operations with a maximum of 200 cement trucks going through their facility daily,” resident Jan Kelly told the council.
Kelly said the light coming from the plant’s nighttime operations will be like living “next to a lit-up football field.” She also said the noise and pollution generated by all those trucks driving through the neighborhood, idling at the plant while being filled then driving back through their neighborhood, would be overwhelming.
Adam Turigliatto, who is a licensed respiratory therapist and lives about a mile from the proposed plant, warned the council the plant could lead to devastating health problems for nearby residents.
“Outside of all the environmental pollutants that will be associated with the batch cement plant, the one that needs to be looked at very closely is the production of silica dust, which is a byproduct of crystalline silica,” Turigliatto said.
He said that once the tiny silica particles are released in the air, there will be no way to control where they go and whom they affect. Those silica particles could lead to silicosis, or a hardening of the lungs, he said.
“This is something we are not doing to ourselves. This is something that will happen to us, if approved,” Turigliatto said.
While most of the neighboring properties are zoned for light industrial use, several residents noted there has been significant residential growth in the area, with new housing developments like Curtin Creek, D.R. Horton and Mountain View Estates expected to add hundreds more housing units and create a further schism between the two uses.
That 2021 settlement and approval by the hearings examiner leaves the county council without a say in the outcome of Knife River’s application, once it is submitted.
“If a conditional use permit is applied for, that would be heard by the hearings examiner and not the council,” said County Attorney Christine Cook.
Cook said the state environmental review would also go before the hearings examiner rather than the county council.
“If the comprehensive plan designation allows the zoning, then council’s decisions in general have already been made with regards to the property,” Cook explained. “If a permit is applied for, that is something that goes to the hearings examiner.”
Residents will still have an opportunity to voice their concerns about the proposed plant during the hearings examiner’s public hearing, Cook said.
To watch the full council meeting, go to https://www.cvtv.org/program/clark-county-council.