Debate on mill site needn’t wait for pollution probe

An initial investigation of possible contamination at the Broughton Mill site need not delay a vote on its proposed redevelopment, says Jay Manning, director of the Department of Ecology.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008
By KATHIE DURBIN, Columbian staff writer

In a letter dated Friday and sent to all members of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, Manning said the state’s initial investigation will be completed by mid-July. He said its purpose would be to determine whether there has been a release or threatened release of a hazardous substance at the site that warrants further action.

“The conclusions will be shared with the commission, other interested stakeholders, and the public,” Manning wrote. “Nothing in Ecology’s process prevents or limits the commission from continuing its work and decision-making on the Gorge Master Plan.”

The commission is expected to vote April 8 in Stevenson on whether to approve an amendment to the management plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area that would allow a large destination resort on the old mill site near Underwood, about 60 miles east of Vancouver.

Gorge Commissioners Jim Middaugh and Honna Sheffield wrote to Manning on March 18 asking him to undertake the investigation after they failed to get answers from the commission staff about the type and extent of contamination at the site. At least three underground fuel storage tanks are present on the site, along with other possible sources of pollution. The advocacy group Friends of the Columbia Gorge also requested an investigation.

Skamania County commissioners and some gorge commissioners have accused Middaugh and Sheffield of using delay tactics to try to kill the project.

Middaugh issued a statement saying, “The Department of Ecology’s prompt response is precisely the kind of state partnership I’ve been seeking all along to ensure we end up with a successful project. It’s unfortunate that the Gorge Commission didn’t formally initiate this partnership when concerns about possible contamination first were raised.”

Broughton Lumber President Jason Spadaro has said he would cooperate with Ecology on the investigation. Broughton Lumber owns the mill site and would be the developer of the resort.