The Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation filed a timely appeal to halt the expansion of a gravel mining project near Selah and that the Nation’s lawsuit can move forward.
Granite Northwest, a paving materials supplier, has been seeking for years to expand mining operations. The company said in 2015 that it was running out of gravel at its Rowley Quarry to meet demands for road and construction projects and wanted to expand mining from 26 acres to more than 160 acres on the north side of the Yakima ridge, dividing Yakima and Selah.
The Yakama Nation opposed the expansion, saying it could disrupt a tribal cultural and burial site. The Nation said the area was once a tribal fishing village named Wanapine that included burial grounds.
A number of court filings later, Yakima County decided the project could move forward, saying the Yakama Nation had not filed an appeal of the county’s decision within the 21-day window required by Washington’s land use petition act.
The Supreme Court opinion said that the Yakama Nation’s May 2 appeal was filed in a timely matter and remanded the case back to the Yakima County Superior Court for further proceedings.
The opinion hinged on a technical point — in Yakima County, final land use decisions must be written.
The court found that while the County Board of Commissioners issued its decision at an April 10, 2018 meeting, the Board did not provide written notice to the Yakama Nation until April 13, 2018, and that the Yakama Nation’s appeal fell 19 days later, within the required window.
Yakama nation Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin applauded the court’s decision.
“The Yakama Nation maintains its inherent sovereign rights to its ancestors’ remains and cultural resources wherever they may be,” Saluskin said. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court allowed our lawsuit to proceed to protect our ancestors from this proposed gravel mine.”
The Yakama Nation’s appeal process started after Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act determination of nonsignificance for the area. The Yakama Nation challenged both in Yakima County Superior Court in May 2018, naming as defendants Yakima County, Granite Northwest and landowner Frank Rowley, who was leasing the land to Granite Construction, a subsidiary of Granite Northwest.
The Yakama Nation said county officials had failed to thoroughly consider the cultural significance of the area when issuing a conditional use permit for the expansion. The Nation also said that the county had failed to seek an archaeological site alteration and excavation permit after being told to do so by the State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.
A hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the state archaeology department but upheld the SEPA determination. The Yakama Nation appealed the decision to the county Board of Commissioners.
But the board denied the appeal, on April 10, 2018, through resolution — the written copy of which it sent to the Yakama Nation three days later, on April 13. The Nation responded by filing the new land use petition in Superior Court on May 2, 2018.
In October 2019, the state Court of Appeals said the Nation’s opposition to the expansion was filed after the required deadline. The Yakama Nation then sought review with the Supreme Court.
Markham Quehrn, an attorney representing the county and Granite Northwest, said Thursday he needed time to review the findings with his clients before issuing a statement.
A Yakama Nation news release said the Yakama Nation will continue its fight against the mine expansion before the Yakima County Superior Court.