Local group questions pollution affects from SR 169 asphalt plant

An asphalt plant is proposed to be built on Maple Valley Highway and residents have mixed feelings, but according to the asphalt company, it’s no big deal.

Lakeside Industries, an asphalt plant company based in Issaquah, plan to move their Covington plant to unincorporated Maple Valley.

The company wants to move because the current property owner of the land they are using in Covington has “a new vision for the land use” and Lakeside said they wish to move because of that, according to Karen Deal, the Environmental and Land Use Director at Lakeside.

Residents in the unincorporated Maple Valley area said they are worried about the proposed asphalt plant that Lakeside Industries want to place on Highway 169 on an industrial zoned plot of land.

Angela Flick, a community member from this area, said they are concerned about pollution in the Cedar River, since the proposed plant would be within 200 feet of the river, and that they are also concerned about an increase in traffic on that road.

“I know Lakeside Industries put on their checklist that they are environmentally friendly, but examples of asphalt plants that have leaks, spills or have issues that do disrupt the environment,” Flick said. “And being right across the street from the Cedar River is a concern as well as all of us who live right behind where the plant will be located.”

Deal and Bill Dempsey, production manager at Lakeside, said it is nearly impossible for them to have a problem with leaking or spills into the river.

They said the new plant will not only have barriers around the asphalt making machines, but they also said there is little to nothing that could leak since the oil they use in the process to make the asphalt is surrounded by a barrier to stop potential leaking.

When describing how asphalt is made, Deal and Dempsey said there is not much to it.

Deal and Dempsey agreed there is a misconception with asphalt plants being like an oil refinery.

“It’s a very simple process, you heat rock up and then mix it with hot oil,” Dempsey said. “There is no chance of polluting the Cedar River with this process. For people to say that we got toxin, they’re thinking more like an oil refinery. We don’t do any refining, we don’t work with any real gasoline or diesel, so there’s a lot of misconceptions.”

Air pollution is another concern that was expressed among the community, along with a fear there will be a bad smell to come from the proposed plant.

According to Deal, the only pollution that will be emitted in the air is from their trucks, like any other truck that drives up and down that road.

She also said the smoke you see come out of the stacks isn’t smoke, but rather steam from the asphalt being made.

“You know how your dryer vent works when you’re drying your clothes? You know the steam that comes out?” Dempsey asked. “That’s what it is. We’re taking moisture out of the rock and sending it into steam.”

For a company like Lakeside to purchase land and put their plant there, it must pass the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) document checklist and submit it to King County. The county will have to go through and make sure everything sticks to their environmental standards.

The purpose of this document is to verify there will be no harm to the environment in the location the purposed plant will go.

According to King County’s Department of Permitting and Environmental Review, Randy Sandin, Lakeside is still in the first phase of planning and the SEPA documents.

He said if Lakeside proposes anything, for example to put in stormwater drains, it would do a very detailed review to make it sure it did not impact the environment in anyway.

Lakeside so far only has the approval to remove contaiminated soil from the zone and to put fresh soil in.

To address the community’s other concern about traffic, Deal and Dempsey said there will be no need for mitigation for the traffic on that highway.

Flick said the community’s biggest concern with traffic are the trucks coming in and out of the plant.

“With those slow-moving trucks going both ways we feel it (the traffic) will be impacted greatly,” Flick said.

Deal said the company is determined to not make an impact on traffic by increasing the traffic on state Route 169.

“We are not going to have an impact on the traffic based on what we proposed, when we do these traffic studies we talk with experts,” Deal said. “We have no influence on what they do whatsoever.”

Currently, Dempsey said the level of traffic on SR 169 is a “C” level and that it should stay that way even after the proposed plan is put in.

Deal said Lakeside operates in high density areas with all of their asphalt plants and choose locations that are near major highways so its trucks can get to the location to deliver asphalt.

“You have to look at the way your positioning yourself from a sustainability manner as well,” Deal said. “You want to be in close proximity to getting to where you’re paving.”

She also said they look to locate where their workers live. They said they want to locate in a convenient location for their employees to get to and from work.

Currently, King County Councilman, Reagan Dunn, said he and the council put a moratorium on the asphalt plant, delaying any further process on it for the next six months.

In an email Dunn sent to the community, he said, “This moratorium puts a pause on DPER (Permitting and Environmental Review) accepting and reviewing permit applications while the King County Executive conducts a study to review whether the land use designation, zoning and/or development regulations need to be updated in order to address impacts of potential industrial uses.”

Dunn said he and the council put a moratorium on the proposed plant because they are concerned with the traffic impact on the highway and the water quality of the Cedar River.

He also said it is unusual for the council to pass unanimously on something so quickly, which Dunn said shows how important it is to thoroughly review this project, and other projects, before it is put into place.

According to the statement by Dunn, the council is required to schedule a public hearing within 60 days of the adoption of the moratorium. 

The council has scheduled this public hearing for Jan. 8, 2018.