The landslide activity east of Bingen appears to have subsided for now, but SDS Lumber Co. and the Washington Department of Natural Resources have remained active in hammering out an agreement.
Following a series of landslides on Feb. 2 above a gravel pit owned by SDS, the DNR closed the area to further mining activity and ordered SDS to come up with a strategy to stabilize the area.
The slides, which sent rocks, gravel, and trees down the hill, led to the temporary evacuation of the Guided Path transitional housing shelter as a safety precaution.
SDS subsequently hired a geologist to assess the area, and according to SDS President Jason Spadaro, a long-range plan to stabilize the hillside is being implemented.
"The initial analysis was that an area of deeper soil directly above the SDS pit boundary had a rotational type of slump occur, depositing material into the SDS pit," Spadaro explained. "It is not continuing to move at the current time, but we will be closely monitoring it."
The DNR order issued on Feb. 24 stipulated that the hillside where the slide occurred needed a detailed geo-technical analysis: "A currently unstable landslide exists at the northern part of SDS's surface mine. Until an analysis of the site's stability is completed, the site should be closely monitored. SDS agrees that an assessment of the scope of the potential slope failure and of short- and long-term strategies for addressing identified risks should be obtained through a competent geo-technical report."
Spadaro pointed out that the entire hillside is not unstable, even though it may have appeared that way to some observers during the slide event.
"DNR has agreed SDS can re-enter the pit to remove stockpiled material, but we have all agreed it is prudent to have further geologic assessment before any mining resumes," Spadaro said. "There is no reason to believe that we will be unable to resume mining in the future. This pit has been active since the 1960s and is an important source of rock for SDS Lumber's operations."
In its original order on Feb. 4, DNR claimed that SDS had mined gravel outside of its permit area, an allegation SDS denied.
"With regard to any violation of SDS' permits, SDS provided information and evidence to DNR that mining has not occurred outside of the permitted boundaries," Spadaro said. "This settlement gives recognition to that as it supersedes the prior order and DNR is not continuing its allegation that SDS operated outside of the permitted boundary in this order."
Spadaro also pointed out that SDS has met with Columbia River Gorge Commission representatives and provided photographs showing any mining that may have occurred near the boundary of the Bingen urban exempt area was done in the 1960s and 1970s -- well before the National Scenic Area was created.
DNR issued four specific orders in its Feb. 24 agreement with SDS:
1) No surface mining or crushing of any rock within this permit or the area directly adjacent to the north permit boundary is to occur without the express written consent of DNR until a completed geo-technical report is accepted by DNR ... SDS is permitted to remove stockpiled material currently located at the southeast portion of the permit area;
2) SDS must monitor the mine and provide to DNR a weekly status report of the unstable slope area until completion of the geo-technical report is accepted by DNR;
3) The report must assesses the consideration of the slope and recommend alternatives to obtain immediate and long-term slope stability and identify operations that are safe to conduct pending interim reclamation efforts; and
4) SDS must submit to DNR a complete modified reclamation plan application for the mine addressing the mine's current slope stability conditions for review and ultimate approval of DNR.