The Yakama Nation’s efforts to prevent a gravel mining expansion near a cultural site has run into a major roadblock.
The state Court of Appeals ruled this week that the Nation’s opposition to the expansion was filed after a required deadline. The ruling overturns a lower court’s decision remanding the matter back to the county’s planning department for further review.
Granite Northwest wants to expand its mining operations from 26 acres to more than 160 acres on the north side of the ridge that divides Yakima and Selah. The company said it’s running out of gravel at its current quarry and needed to expand to meet future demands for roads and other projects.
At issue is a tribal burial ground in the area. Under the 1855 treaty, the Yakamas retain much interest as well as hunting, fishing and other cultural rights in the 11 million acres of ceded land.
The tribe contends county officials failed to fully consider the cultural significance of the area when issuing a conditional use permit allowing the expansion.
The area of concern once was a significant Yakama fishing village named Wanapine, with the talus slopes being tribal burial grounds.
Archaeologists in 1854 first identified and designated the historic site, which has been repeatedly documented and supported since, according to the lawsuit.
The county’s permit requires the company to obtain a permit from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, along with other state agencies. Granite Northwest has to immediately stop work if it uncovers unanticipated archaeological or historic resources or human remains, and notify the county and state.
A Yakima County hearing examiner and Yakima County commissioners upheld the project despite the tribe’s protests.
In May 2018, the tribe filed an appeal in Yakima County Superior Court, which denied the county’s and company’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that the tribe missed the deadline to file an appeal.
The tribe also complained in the lawsuit that county officials quickly closed a window in which new information regarding the matter could be included. As a result, information about a recent slide on the ridge and another slow-moving slide to the south on Rattlesnake Ridge couldn’t be entered into the record.
The tribe filed the appeal in court on May 2, 2018, 22 days after commissioners issued their decision.
On Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court, ruling the tribe’s appeal was filed too late.
“The Nation untimely filed the petition,” Justice George B. Fearing wrote in the panel’s decision.