Friday, August 12, 2016

Former Sundberg Mining Pit Proposed For Housing Development

Owner seeks release from state Department of Natural Resources to clean up property 

Recent Illegal Grading, Other Activity Prompts Permit Violation Action

Neighborhood Meeting Draws 40 Concerned Community Members

Above: A housing development is proposed at the vacant site of the former Sundberg Sand and Gravel mine on Olympia’s westside near Cooper Point Road NW, between 20th Avenue NW and 28th Avenue NW.  Neighbors are quickly organizing to learn more about the proposed project, which is in the critical aquifer recharge area of Green Cove Basin.

By Janine Gates
Another Green Cove Basin Land Use Investigation

A land use application for a housing development was submitted to the City of Olympia on July 31 to develop a portion of the former Sundberg sand and gravel mine on Cooper Point Road NW between 28th Avenue NW and 20th Avenue NW.

Property owner Jerry Mahan proposes to subdivide about 50 acres into 177 single family homes and related needs such as open space, stormwater and wetland buffers. The project is proposed to be accessed via Cooper Point Road NW and Grove Street NW.  

To accommodate the development, improvements for Cooper Point Road by installing a center turn lane and a pedestrian pathway, and street improvements to Grove Street are in the plan.

The proposed project, called Green Cove Park, lies squarely in one of the most extreme critical aquifer recharge areas of the Green Cove Basin.

The property is zoned Residential Low Impact (RLI), the only area, along with the nearby BranBar property, in the City of Olympia with the RLI designation. The zoning is a remnant designation from when the area was annexed from Thurston County in 2006.

The property has been dramatically, and illegally, altered throughout the years and Mahan has received multiple letters from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for violating state laws related to unpermitted backfilling and soil disturbance activities.

Mahan, of Puyallup, is a longtime agent at John L Scott Real Estate. His nonresidential building operator business, Jerry Mahan Communities, founded in 2011, lists annual revenue of $260,000 and three employees. As a homebuilder and developer, he has built over 500 homes and developed over 1,000 lots, say his online profiles.

The applicant, who has owned the property since 2006, intends to start development in June 2017.

Above: Craig Deaver speaks about the proposed Green Cove Park housing development at a community meeting on Thursday evening at Olympia city hall.

Neighborhood Concerns

A neighborhood meeting for the proposal was held on Thursday at Olympia City Hall. About 40 individuals, including three city staff, were in attendance. The meeting was billed as a courtesy for the public to meet the applicant, learn about the project, and discuss community concerns.

Craig Deaver and Lori Harvey of C.E.S. NW, Inc., a civil engineering firm, represented the applicant and answered questions for about an hour and a half. 

As is typical for land use cases, the city will use a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist to determine whether the project will impact the environment. At the meeting, City of Olympia senior city planner Cari Hornbein said that determination will be made in the next few weeks.

The first formal public comment period for the project ends at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 19.

Concerns were expressed about the property's history as an illegal dumping ground, the area’s environmental sensitivity as a critical aquifer recharge area, and the cumulative impact of the project in an area that is seeing several other proposed housing projects.

Increased traffic and pedestrian safety were also of concern, as nearly 1,700 new vehicle trips per day are estimated to be on neighborhood roads as a result of this project. The area has no sidewalks and there are significant visual barriers due to the steep grade of area streets, especially 20th Avenue. That street becomes Elliott Avenue at the intersection meeting Division Street, an area that neighbors say is already dangerous.

The nearest grocery store is Safeway, about 1.7 miles away. The project is on the Intercity Transit bus line.

Above: The Sundberg property, which has a clear, northwest view of the Olympic Mountains, as seen from a proposed entryway on Grove Street NW off 20th Avenue. Grove Street is a quiet, little street with few houses.

Those who took the time to attend the community meeting commented that the city’s calendar system for meetings and options for public involvement and review of already submitted materials is antiquated.

While the applicant's thick geotechnical reports, soil analysis, wetland, and other studies were in paper form on the back table, none are yet online. One man commented that he wants to access GIS shape files so individuals can do their own analysis of historic data and future plans of all developments for the area.

Applicant representatives often responded to community questions by suggesting that they must make public records requests to the state Department of Ecology to get information.

City of Olympia senior planner Cari Hornbein got the message that this project is already generating great community interest and said she will likely be setting up a separate webpage for it on the city website, similar to the proposed Trillium project in southeast Olympia.

“I came to the meeting and saw there were virtually no handouts...I was surprised. I asked staff if they were going to be putting the documents about the proposed development that were on the back table online. I was initially told that the documents might have to be obtained through a records request.  I think they judged that this might not be optimum and quickly said they would be put online,” said Judy Bardin, a former city planning commissioner who attended the meeting, and asked about street connectivity issues within the development and length of the proposed streets.

Hornbein also said she would contact state Department of Fish and Wildlife representatives after one person expressed concern for hawks and chicks seen nesting near the property.

Sundberg Property: Dumping, Permit Violations

This is not the first time property owner Jerry Mahan has sought to do something with his property. This is in fact the fifth time. Each time, Mahan has walked away from his proposals.

In 2015, the last time Mahan presented a proposal to the city, it was under the name Westbrook Investments. His proposed development, Sundberg Estates, would have platted 157 single family homes.

According to city documents, Mahan’s company was called Canterwood Investments when he first started the Sundberg Estates project in 2007, proposing to subdivide 59.60 acres into 204 residential lots.

Mahan’s representatives pulled the plug on the project in 2008, according to city documents obtained by Little Hollywood, after they were unable to get a time extension from the City of Olympia to collect and interpret groundwater data in order to refine the overall drainage design and its impacts to the project.

Mahan’s representatives requested that the application be withdrawn, and received a 50 percent refund of the original application fee, per Olympia Municipal Code.

Time and again, alert neighbors have presented the city with weighty public health and safety information regarding the property. They’ve also presented historical information that illustrates discrepancies in Mahan’s permits and paperwork. 

To move forward with a development this time, Mahan intends to seek the cancellation of a reclamation permit and release of a performance bond from the state Department of Natural Resources, according to a memo by Mahan to the City of Olympia dated March 21, 2016.

A reclamation permit means Mahan, who has owned the property since 2006, is supposed to dig out everything on the property that isn’t supposed to be there. And that’s a lot.

Recent, numerous inspection letters from the state Department of Natural Resources speak to perpetually late annual reports, stop work orders, repeated violations of state RCWs due to illegal grading inside and outside the permitted areas, the importing of fill, and construction debris and soil stockpiles observed outside the permit area. 

"Piles of imported soils have been graded flat and pushed over the mined highwall. The mine floor also had some grade work done that filled the stormwater ditches that existed in the central permit are. The culverts remained in the northern permit boundary berm but were filled with material....The site has not been approved for import or backfill and the current work is in conflict with the voluntary stop work in the unpermitted area...." reads an October 16, 2015 report by state Department of Natural Resources staff.

As a result of repeated permit violations, Mahan’s performance security bond to DNR has steadily increased due to the increased disturbed areas.

In fact, Mahan’s own geotechnical report says that there is so much old fill and debris on site, that one option, to support foundations, would be to use pin piles. Pin piles are small, hollow, steel pipes that are mechanically driven into the ground.

As of August 10, Mahan still has not received the cancellation of the reclamation permit by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

If he is released from that obligation, then the City of Olympia is on the hook, legally and financially, for the cleanup of the property.

Incredibly, the state Department of Ecology issued Mahan a sand and gravel general permit on February 17, 2016, based on information Mahan provided in his application. The effective date of the new permit was April 1, 2016 and expires in 2021. The sand and gravel mine is inactive.

Ecology called the February 17 permit a “reissue” of the permit, but state DNR staff who frequently inspect the site, discovered, in 2015, that they had issued a previous permit in 2014 in error. The permit file, and error, reaches back to 1972 when the permit was initially issued.

Mahan appeared to get the permit from Ecology because he was cited by DNR on August 7, 2015 for not having one in the proper location of the property.

Where the application asks if the site is within a critical aquifer recharge area, the box is checked no, however, the property is within a critical aquifer recharge area, according to 1998 Thurston County Storm and Surface Water Program maps, and is in the Green Cove Creek Drainage Basin.

When asked about the permit by Little Hollywood during Thursday night’s city meeting, Deaver said he didn’t know about how the boxes were checked, and that Mahan sought the permit to fall back on in case the housing development does not go through.

City of Olympia senior planner Cari Hornbein said that the RLI zoning does not allow a sand and gravel operation.

Little Hollywood has a one page, simply worded and neatly typed 12 point reclamation plan signed by Theodore Sundberg in 1979, which apparently has yet to be fulfilled.

“The subsequent use of the land will be for housing. This will be an asset to the surrounding property and no opposition has been made,” the plan says. Sundberg, who has passed away, expected the plan to be completed two years after completion of surface mining activities.

Instead, the property, which has recently been fenced on Cooper Point Road, became a known dumping site of fill, woody debris, recycled concrete, bricks and asphalt, and maybe worse, from area projects, some say for decades.

Putting the issue aside that it is unclear whether or not Mahan, as the current owner, has a valid sand and gravel permit, Mahan’s company is in violation of that permit, according to a letter by the state DNR.

The department inspected the mine on May 5, and found it in violation of five RCW’s related to unpermitted backfilling and disturbances outside of the approved reclamation permit boundary. The letter says the conditions must be corrected no later than July 4, 2016.

Asked by Little Hollywood during Thursday's meeting whether these corrections have been made, Deaver said that they have, and those corrections are currently under review by DNR. 

Deaver admitted that the permits need to be “tidied up.”

Environmental Concern for Green Cove Basin

The Green Cove Basin is roughly bounded by Cooper Point Road on the east, Mud Bay Road on the south, Overhulse Road on the west, and Sunset Beach Drive on the north. The Eld Inlet and Budd Inlet watershed boundary line meanders through the area of the Sundberg property.

The Basin is protected by a 1998 Thurston County Comprehensive Plan and has been mapped as a critical aquifer recharge area with three classes: extreme, high, and moderate.

The area of the proposed Green Cove Park is in an area labeled “extreme.”

The site of another proposed housing development of over 60 single family homes, Parkside, on the opposite side of Cooper Point Road, west of the proposed Green Cove Park, is designated “high,” according to Thurston County maps.

During the city meeting, applicant representative Craig Deaver said the project’s wetland and stormwater retention plans “mimic the site conditions as if it is forested,” and will ensure that water levels “more than matches historic flows.” He also insisted that the site was clean of hazardous materials.

Someone who scoffed at those assertions and doesn’t need to be told about the geology of the property is west Olympia resident Jim Elliott. Elliott attended the city meeting on Thursday evening and said he is an eyewitness to “decades of dumping atrocities” at the site.

Elliott, 88, lives near the former Sundberg property, and is a wealth of first-hand information about the area. His family homesteaded the area in 1922, and he grew up near the corner of what is now Cooper Point Road and 20th Avenue.

The Sundberg property was owned by Elliott's family before Theodore "Ted" Sundberg bought it in 1938. Little by little, Sundberg worked his way up to owning 104 acres.

As for area hydrology, Elliott says there was so much water coming off the hillside from what was Elliott Avenue, now 20th Avenue, that his father and uncle dug a four foot ditch from the edge of what is now the Sundberg property on Cooper Point Road to the house on the corner of Cooper Point Road and 20th Avenue, to channel the water. They also put down cedar puncheons so cattle could walk through the property without getting bogged down.

Elliott is worried. He has witnessed scores of dump trucks unloading dirt and debris from area projects and believes the site is not clean.

“They won’t listen to anybody, and I’ve grown up and lived around there. If they only knew what’s buried up there, but they don’t know, and they’re not going to dig it up,” Elliott says of any city, county, or state authority purporting to protect the environment of the area.

“Something else kind of bugs me….Every time they submit an application for development, why do they change their name all the time?” asked Elliott about Mahan’s multiple limited liability companies.

Jerry Dierker, Jr., who also lives near the former Sundberg property, claims he was exposed to hazardous gas coming from contaminated materials, dumped there, he alleges, by Port of Olympia contractors in January 2015. 

He says he saw the materials, several blocks, sized 4’ x 6’ x 12’, covered with concrete and perhaps some chemical, and are used at Port of Olympia’s Swantown Boat Works. Dierker said he got within 300 feet of them and his throat started burning, and his mouth felt blistered.

Dierker immediately reported the incident to the state Department of Ecology, saying he knew the blocks had been placed there within the last four to five months of the incident.

Dierker says portions of the property were also used by the Port of Olympia to store creosote soaked pilings and hazardous wood waste from the contaminated Cascade Pole area of Budd Inlet from 1957 to 1990.

Dierker has recently addressed the Olympia city council during the public comment period to report the harm done to him as a result of the exposure.

An email by Mahan to the state Department of Natural Resources dated February 25, 2015 acknowledges that Mahan knew materials were recently being dumped on site and said he would direct the person to discontinue the activity. He also said he was moving toward a preliminary plat and would soon be requesting a grading permit.

Roger Robinson, another neighbor who lives near the proposed development and attended the meeting, has tracked activity on the property for 17 years. He has also witnessed dumping first-hand and reported it to several city and state entities in March 2015. With a city official, he even followed the dump trucks to and from the sites.

He is most worried about water quality.

“About 400 dump trucks of waste have been brought into the property over the years. In order to build, they have to go through the city and they don’t have the science. If the city is using Thurston County’s old maps of the area, they have to use 1998 science to go forward. Technically, it’s a health hazard. They’ve spread that stuff all around. What if they break through the aquifer? That’s our drinking water. Why are they gambling with our water? They are ignoring all the contamination and we need to hold the city to task. Do the science, wetland reports, and soil tests. We want the city to conform and comply with state laws,” Robinson demanded, in an interview with Little Hollywood prior to the city meeting.

Above: Roger Robinson took matters into his own hands and prepared soil and debris samples procured at the former site of the Sundberg Sand and Gravel Mine to present to city officials at the neighborhood meeting Thursday evening. Here, he shows his samples to City of Olympia principal planner Tim Smith in charge of the city's State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) determination for the Green Cove Park development. Robinson wants the City of Olympia to use SEPA in the way it’s supposed to be used – as a tool to guide a thorough investigation into the historic and current condition of the site prior to potential development.

About an exhibit he labeled Exhibit C, Robinson said, “It looks like dirt but it’s not. It’s been out there three years and nothing grows on it.” He left that one as is, but Robinson added water to the other samples and dared city officials to drink it if they considered the Sundberg site cleaned up” and fit for housing as the property owner believes.

Cumulative Impacts: Parkside, BranBar and More

In an update on the proposed Parkside land use application, the applicant responded to the city in early July with a set of revisions. The next step is a public hearing in front of a city hearing examiner, set for August 22, 6:30 p.m., in the city council chambers at Olympia city hall.

In the BranBar site specific rezone case, the hearing examiner ruled in favor of the applicant, Brandon Anderson, of Branbar, LLC on August 8. The decision is not appealable, and now goes to city council to determine what process to use for considering the recommendation.

The BranBar property is also in the Green Cove Basin and mapped by Thurston County as a critical aquifer recharge area labeled “high.”

With the rezone, a land use housing development proposal of about 20 single family homes will likely follow.

For past articles and photos about Parkside, BranBar, Green Cove Basin, and explanations about SEPA, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search engine.

For updated information about these developments, go to the City of Olympia website at or contact Cari Hornbein, City of Olympia Senior Planner, phone: (360) 753-8048, email: The file number for the Green Cove Park project is 16-9025.