Certain activities can resume at penalized quarry near Cornelius
State environmental regulators say the operator of a decommissioned rock quarry outside Cornelius can resume certain activities again after finding multiple permit violations last year.
In May 2020, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a more than $611,000 fine to Columbia Northwest Recycling for storing and processing industrial solid waste at Westside Rock Hayden Quarry without permits. It was the fourth-largest penalty in state history.
The quarry, which has been in the reclamation process for years, is located south of Cornelius in unincorporated Washington County.
Reclamation involves filling in a decommissioned quarry with dirt, rocks and other inert materials, allowing it to return to a more natural state.
In 2016 and 2017, the quarry operator started importing about 3,000 tons of asphalt shingle waste and about 10,000 tons of glass waste to the quarry without permits. Some of the materials were processed and used in construction operations at the site and as backfill for the quarry, according to DEQ.
Improper storage of such materials can allow harmful chemicals and metal particles to seep into soil and groundwater, potentially leading to contamination, officials said.
Subsequent inspections of the site also revealed that stormwater runoff at the quarry wasn't being managed properly, resulting in water pollution in violation of a permit, according to DEQ.
In September 2020, DEQ and another agency, the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), barred all operations from continuing at the site and required the quarry operator to test for contamination and submit plans for remediation.
At a Wednesday, April 14, meeting with neighbors of the quarry, who have been concerned for months their water wells were contaminated with toxic chemicals, state agency officials provided an update about enforcement actions at the quarry.
Washington County's Community Participation Organization (CPO) 15 organized the meeting. The county's CPO program was created to help communities organize and advocate locally.
State officials said the quarry operator would be able to resume reclamation activities, including importing clean materials to fill the quarry.
Testing of glass waste and groundwater at the site showed no indication of contamination beyond acceptable levels for backfill, said Jeremy Fleming, a solid waste compliance specialist with DEQ.
While the quarry cannot import more glass waste, because it isn't an acceptable clean fill material, the quarry doesn't need to dispose of the existing glass waste because it doesn't show signs of contamination, Fleming said.
DEQ is still reviewing Columbia Northwest Recycling's plan for how to dispose of the asphalt shingle waste, Fleming said, adding that some of it was used to create a vehicle parking pad.
"This material is not going to remain in place," Fleming said. The asphalt shingle waste may be shipped elsewhere to be used to create new asphalt, he added.
Cari Buchner, a mining compliance specialist with DOGAMI, said the agency lifted its suspension of reclamation activities on April 1 after reviewing the quarry's plans for importing clean fill, stormwater pollution control and water drainage from the site.
Under the new stormwater plan, the quarry officials must sample runoff from the site at two approved locations four times per year and submit the results to DOGAMI for review.
If levels of pollutants exceed allowable levels again, the agency will require quarry officials to revise their plan, Buchner said.
DEQ officials said the next step will be to begin settlement discussions with Columbia Northwest Recycling regarding the fines that agencies issued.
Dennis Erickson, who lives about a half a mile from the quarry, asked DEQ officials if neighbors of the quarry could be included in settlement discussions.
He added that he considered the violations at the quarry to be a "very significant and serious breach," adding, "The concern and fear of the neighbors have, of course, been ongoing."
Audrey O'Brien, DEQ's solid waste program manager, said settlement meetings are not open to the public.
She added that a large portion of the fines the agencies initially issued to the quarry operator were calculated as the economic benefit to the company for not disposing of illegally imported materials properly. If proper disposal does occur, the fines could be altered, O'Brien said.
Erickson and another quarry neighbor, Betty Rose, who lives across the street from the entrance to the quarry, said despite testing at the quarry, they're still concerned water on their properties could be contaminated.
Erickson asked a representative for Columbia Northwest Recycling, who attended the meeting, whether or not the company would be willing to pay for water testing on neighbors' properties.
"I'm not in any place to respond to that question," replied Bryan Kerr, who earlier in the meeting said he has been dealing with the environmental issues at the quarry with the operator. Columbia Northwest Recycling is an affiliate of Kerr Contractors, which operates in the Portland metro area.
Erickson also asked Kerr how long he expects it will take for the quarry to finish with the reclamation process, noting his concern with noise and truck traffic on local roads when fill was previously being imported to the quarry.
Kerr said he doesn't know, adding that it depends on the level of construction activities in Washington County and how much dirt and other fill materials construction companies make available for disposal.
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