Zimmerly Quarry

Zimmerly Quarry
Unpermitted mining activities on the Zimmerly property in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Friends works to stop one of the largest and longest-running land use violations in the history of the National Scenic Area.

From 2017 to 2020, illegal mining on the Zimmerly property in southeast Clark County, just inside the gateway to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, harmed Gorge lands, waterbodies, and wildlife, as well as the surrounding community, on a daily basis. The unpermitted Zimmerly gravel quarry, located just north of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, has been one of the largest and longest-running land use violations in the history of the National Scenic Area.

Now, in 2021, Zimmerly seeks permits from Clark County to resume mining at this site, but without the comprehensive environmental review required by law. In addition, Zimmerly proposes a mining "haul route" in a residential area where mining uses are prohibited.

Issue summary

In 2017, after a twenty-year period with little to no mining activity on the Zimmerly property, the Nutter Corporation began mining the property without the required land use permits, harming Gorge resources and the surrounding community. In 2019, the Columbia River Gorge Commission held that Nutter and Zimmerly were violating the National Scenic Area rules by conducting mining activities without the required permits.  Despite six separate Clark County enforcement orders plus the Gorge Commission's ruling, Nutter and Zimmerly continued their unlawful mining activities well into 2020.

Both Zimmerly and Nutter have a long and sordid history of mining-related violations on this and other properties. For example, during a brief mining campaign in the mid-1990s on this property, Zimmerly illegally discharged millions of gallons of sediment-laden mining runoff into nearby Gibbons Creek and Steigerwald Lake, destroying endangered salmon habitat and harming resources in the wildlife refuge. Zimmerly was fined nearly $200,000 by the Gorge Commission and Washington Department of Ecology for causing this devastating environmental damage.
 
After resuming mining on the property in 2017 without first seeking the required permits, Nutter illegally hauled hundreds of truckloads of gravel and dirt per day along SE 356th Avenue, threatening the safety of several families who live on this narrow and otherwise quiet residential street, as well as hundreds of schoolchildren who attend the nearby Columbia River Gorge Elementary School and Jemtegaard Middle School. In July 2018, the severe safety risks posed by the illegal hauling were brought into sharp focus when a fully loaded gravel truck lost control of its brakes while coming down the hill on SE 356th and crashed into the BNSF rail line at more than 60 mph, destroying the tracks and blocking train traffic for more than twelve hours.

Gorge Commission staff's failure to carry out Scenic Act enforcement mandate

Once the illegal mining began on the Zimmerly property, community members and Friends staff repeatedly called on the Gorge Commission staff to enforce the Scenic Area land use rules and shut down the illegal mining immediately. The Commission’s executive director is required by the Gorge Commission’s rules and the National Scenic Area Act to initiate enforcement action when she/he becomes aware of violations in the National Scenic Area. Unfortunately, the Commission's current director has failed to fulfill this enforcement responsibility, instead erroneously announcing that her role in the National Scenic Area is akin to that of a "neutral" judge (and thus treating herself as if she were one of the appointed Gorge Commissioners, who are required to serve very different functions from the director and the rest of the Commission staff).
 
This abdication of enforcement responsibilities is all the more disappointing given that the Gorge Commission’s executive director has already stated that the mining activities on the Zimmerly property are violating both the Scenic Area rules and a 1997 legal settlement between the Commission and Zimmerly—all of which the director is required to enforce. 

The abdication of enforcement responsibilities also sends the wrong message to Gorge landowners: that the Gorge Commission staff are no longer interested in enforcing the Scenic Area rules, and as a result, when Gorge residents are harmed by violations, they are on their own.

Clark County, to its credit, did attempt to enforce the Scenic Area rules, and in fact has issued six separate enforcement orders and cease and desist letters to Zimmerly and Nutter. However, Clark County’s enforcement powers are significantly weaker than those of the Gorge Commission. 

Gorge Commissioners agree with Friends that mining is illegal

In October 2018, Friends joined with Clark County citizens and landowners in filing an appeal with the appointed members of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, who act as an appellate body for the National Scenic Area. In August 2019, the Gorge Commissioners agreed with Friends that the mining activities on the Zimmerly property lack the required Scenic Area permits, are not legally existing uses, and are land use violations. Zimmerly and Nutter then appealed the Gorge Commissioners' decision to Clark County Superior Court; their appeal remains pending.
  
Speaking about the mining operation, Friends Senior Attorney Nathan Baker said, "This is the largest ongoing land use violation in the history of the National Scenic Area. Zimmerly and Nutter have been violating the law and harming the Gorge with impunity. This illegal and irresponsible mining must stop.”

Incomplete land use application

In 2020, Zimmerly filed a land use application with Clark County seeking permission to mine the property, as well as retroactive approval for the unpermitted mining conducted since 2017. However, Zimmerly's land use application is severely incomplete, hides the project's adverse environmental impacts, and proposes a mining "haul route" in a residential area where mining uses are prohibited. The Clark County Land Use Hearing Examiner is currently evaluating Zimmerly's mining proposal. Friends and allies are asking the Hearing Examiner to deny the requested mining permits and require a full Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
 

Zimmerly mine decision timeline

Media links



Get Involved

Friends’ conservation work is driven by members, volunteers, and activists. There are many ways to join our community of Gorge enthusiasts. Here are some ways to get started:

Judge Denies Mine's Motion to Stay Enforcement of Scenic Area Rules

Judge Denies Mine's Motion to Stay Enforcement of Scenic Area Rules

A Clark County Superior Court issued an opinion denying a motion filed by Judith Zimmerly and the Nutter Corporation, the respective owner and operator of the illegal mine.

Gorge Panel Rules Mine Operation Illegal

Gorge Panel Rules Mine Operation Illegal

Columbia River Gorge Commission overturns county decision, finds that Zimmerly quarry is operating without valid National Scenic Area permits.

Update on the Zimmerly Quarry: August 2019

Update on the Zimmerly Quarry: August 2019

A new chapter in the saga of the controversial Zimmerly quarry took place in The Dalles, OR, before the Columbia River Gorge Commission.