On Top Of The Mountain
- Published: Tuesday, 01 April 2008 08:00
A new source of aggregates is in the works for the Pacific Northwest, just outside of Seattle in Kitsap, Wash., a region desperate for reserves. It was discovered by a rookie to the mining industry who can apparently lend some advice to some of the veterans struggling with permitting issues.
Craig Ueland made the discovery beneath 1,700 acres that he purchased in 2004 from Port Blakely, a private tree-growing company. A small open-pit mine already was present on site, but only produced enough material to maintain roads throughout the property. Also, the nature of the geography and some previous studies suggested that large profits lie beneath the surface.
The purchase turned out to be a smart investment by Ueland, who describes himself as an ìinvestment guy.î He makes a living with Russell Investments, helping large institutions and government bodies invest their assets. Now he is looking to lease the minerals and take this small tree farm to the next level.
Ueland expects to yield 3.28 million cubic yards of commercial-grade aggregate and 8.4 million cubic yards of commercial-grade basalt over the course of 50 years. He is confident the material is of high enough quality for the Department of Transportation to use for governmental projects. A railway conveniently runs through the property and a permit to develop a spur is being considered.
Despite the economic potential, it was the beauty of the land that first attracted Ueland to the property. It is nearly surrounded by state property, including land owned by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and The Mountaineers' lands. It also is bordered by the Bremerton's watershed and occupies part of the Chico Creek watershed. In addition, Ueland's property is heavily used by the public for recreational activities including biking, hiking and hunting.
The view from the property is spectacular, Ueland says. Located on a mountain top, Ueland's property offers a bird's eye view of Downtown Seattle, Canada and vistas all the way down to Mount Rainier.
Ueland says he will not develop the portions with the best views. He also intends to keep most of the property as a working forest. The advantage to leasing versus selling is maintaining control, he says. He stresses that his intent is to manage the land in an environmentally sensitive way.
This stance is undoubtedly helping expedite the permitting process. He applied for the permit to mine on Dec. 14, 2007 and there has been no organized, negative response as of March. In fact, ìit's pretty darn positive,î Ueland says, referring to newspaper articles such as ìCommunity on Board for Kitsap Lake Gravel Quarryî in the Central Kitsap Reporter.
ìWe are getting calls from all over the state asking, ëhow do you actually do this,íî Ueland says. ìOne of the things we have been telling people is that from the beginning we have been open and honestÖ We are trying to do the right thing.î
A primary example is Ueland's willingness to abandon plans to develop an asphalt plant because this initiative met with resistance from the community. People didn't want it, so they took it out of the plans. Also, all of the documents on traffic studies, air quality and habitat management are available to the public on http://www.uelandtreefarm.com.
Ueland also is looking at ways to protect Chico Creek watershed, which hosts one of Kitsap County's largest salmon runs. Ueland says he will not mine up to the water and will likely leave a patch of trees near the water. Some of the property near that area also may be donated as preserved habitat in the future.
ìI think we are actually benefitting by being open,î Ueland explains. ìThey realize that this isn't just people going out and digging in the side of a hill. This is people doing a thoughtful job.î
Ueland also may have an advantage as an independent landowner. He says it would likely be more difficult if the mine operator were doing the permitting. And netting a good contract will be easier if the permitting is pre-approved for the bidder.
ìWe are looking for someone who has a proven ability to operate this size of a facility and who is able to do it in an ecologically sensitive way,î Ueland notes. ìWe are open minded on how the economics are shared.î
Ueland has not disclosed who the present bidders are, but he says there are some big players at the table. The site will likely be active for at least 50 years. This news also comes as a pleasant surprise to the region. According to Ueland, a large site in DuPont County is running out of aggregates, and the area is still growing. As a result, the cost of material is on the rise.
UPDATE: The mining permit application has been accepted as complete by Kitsap County. The approval hearing is tentatively scheduled for June, and there still is no organized opposition. Ueland is hopeful to have the permit in place in the second half of the year, perhaps as early as July or August. We have begun discussions with a number of mining companies but remain open for additional discussions.