Mineral Resource Lands Planning

Designated Mineral Resource Lands: Conserving Mineral Resources for Future Generations
The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires counties to identify and conserve natural resource lands (RCW 36.70A.060). This includes designating mineral resource lands that are not already characterized by urban growth and that have long-term significance for the extraction of minerals (RCW 36.70A.170). Conservation in this context is intended to maintain such lands for potential mineral extraction. Counties must also protect these lands by ensuring that the use of adjacent lands does not interfere with mineral extraction (RCW 36.70A.060(1)).

Mineral Resource Overlay
Snohomish County adopted a Mineral Resource Overlay (MRO) in Map 2 of the Future Land Use Map on February 1, 2006, designating and protecting land containing mineral resources of long-term significance. The MRO designation overlays other land use designations, and is intended to (1) limit mineral activity to areas within the MRO, and (2) restrict intense rural land uses within the MRO to preserve future access to the mineral resources.

A 1999 mineral lands inventory identified 177,000 acres of mineral resources in Snohomish County. Of the 177,000 acres identified in the inventory, 131,000 acres are designated in the MRO. The MRO represents all of the mineral resource deposits in the county which meet the criteria for volume, quality, and extractability; are under county jurisdiction and are not slated for more intensive urban development; and are located in predominantly undeveloped, low density rural or forest areas where land use and environmental incompatibility issues have been addressed at a countywide level.

Primary Components
The two primary components of the Mineral Lands Element from the Growth Management Act Comprehensive Plan are:
  • The excavation and processing of minerals is limited to lands within the MRO. Applications for mineral operations outside the MRO will not be considered, except in cases where the land is within the boundaries of a National Forest, or where an existing, designated mineral site is expanding onto an adjacent parcel. The presence of the MRO does not mean that mineral activity is projected on a property. It only means that the land is eligible for permitting of mineral operations.
  • To protect future access to the mineral resources of the land, subdivision of property is limited. Subdivision is prohibited for parcels zoned R-5 which are entirely within the MRO. Subdivision of R-10, and R-20 zoned parcel requires the use of rural cluster subdivision, open space provisions, and adequate setbacks according to Snohomish County Code (SCC 30.41C.21).

    In addition, subdivision of R-10 and R-20 zoned parcel requires the use of rural cluster subdivision, open space provisions, and adequate setbacks according to Snohomish County Code regulations. (SCC 30.23.110(26)). For more information about Mineral Lands Planning in Snohomish County follow the links below:
    • GMA Comprehensive Plan Map 2 - Mineral Resource Lands (Mineral Resource Overlay)
    • Mineral Resource Lands Policies - General Policy Plan
    • Snohomish County Code Chapter section 30.32C.150-Provisions for subdivision of designated mineral resource lands and lands adjacent to mineral resource lands.
About Mineral Resources
Mineral resources are sand, gravel, and bedrock deposits that can be mined to produce raw materials collectively known as aggregates. Aggregates consist of sand, gravel, and crushed stone that can be characterized and marketed according to particle size, shape, hardness, soundness, and mineralogy. In Snohomish County, precious metals, copper, and other minerals are not present in large quantities and are not a primary source of mining activities.

The Importance of Mineral Resources
Sand, gravel, and bedrock deposits produce the raw materials (aggregates) necessary to manufacture concrete, cement, asphalt, and other similar products. These products are the building blocks upon which our homes, roads, bridges, and businesses are built.

According to a statewide study conducted by Pacific Lutheran University School of Business, “The Aggregates Industry in Washington: Economic Impact and Importance”, October 2003, nearly 52% of all aggregates produced are used for road maintenance, street, and runway construction and bridges. Residential development uses 23%, and the remaining 25% is used by commercial, office, and public sector uses.

Notification of Proximity to Designated Mineral Lands
If your property lies in or within 2,000 feet of designated mineral resource lands you may have received a notification informing you of the potential for, or existence of, mineral extraction activity on designated mineral lands. The Snohomish County Code (SCC 30.32C.200) requires the county to send a notice, every five years to all property owners whose land is situated in or near designated mineral resource lands.

The purpose of this notice is: 1) to provide information on the designation and location of mineral resource lands; and 2) to advise property owners on how they may be affected by activities related to mineral extraction that may take place near their property, such as mining, extraction, washing, crushing, stockpiling, and blasting. The latest mineral lands notification mailing was November 2015.

Permitting & Mitigation of Impacts From Mining Operation 
Mining facilities in Snohomish County are regulated by local, state, and federal agencies that issue permits or impose specific procedures in order to comply with laws addressing the natural environment, public safety, and general operations. Snohomish County regulates certain aspects of surface mining facilities and operations within its jurisdiction, except for mines having legal nonconforming status (e.g., mines that were in existence prior to current regulations), or which are located on Tribal Trust Land.

The county requires either a conditional use or an administrative conditional use permit for all new mine proposals and for proposals to expand existing mines. The decision as to which permit is applicable is based upon Snohomish County Code criteria related to the scale and specific type of mining operation proposed. Under the current permitting system, only lands located within the boundaries of the Mineral Resource Overlay are eligible for a county permit. The permit process ensures that the proposal meets county code requirements and addresses both on-site and off-site impacts.

Permit Review Process
During the permit review process, applications are open for public comment and are reviewed by county staff for compliance with county regulations. Environmental and operational elements under review can include, but are not limited to, critical areas, air and water quality, drainage, and traffic issues. After an open public hearing for a conditional use permit, a hearing examiner can grant, deny, or remand the permit application. For an administrative conditional use permit, department staff makes the permit decision. The decision may impose additional conditions to the established standards and policy requirements per county code based on findings of fact.

In addition to the county conditional use permit or administrative conditional use permit, a mining operation may be required to obtain other local, state, and federal permits or licenses; or, to agree to observe certain specific processes in its mining operations. The table below summarizes some of the other required permits and processes.

Type of Permit or Process
Issue Addressed Corresponding Agency
Reclamation Permit Rehabilitation of disturbed areas from the effects of surface or underground mining, and addressing vegetative cover, soil stability, and water conditions at sites. Department of Natural Resources
Sand and Gravel General Permit: National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and state waste discharge general permit Covers discharge of pollutants from mining operations into state waters. Considers and monitors pH, turbidity, total suspended solids, total dissolved solids, temperature, etc. Washington State Department of Ecology
Hydraulic Project Approval Considers any possible diversion, obstruction, or change to the natural flow or bed of any water body. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife
State Environmental Policy Act Considers environmental impacts stemming from state and local decisions. Appropriate state or local agency
Clean Water Act Section 404 / Section 10 Permit(s) Addresses work in waters of the United States (wetlands and navigable waters). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Endangered Species Act (ESA) Consultation,  Section 7 of ESA Addresses project impacts that may affect ESA listed species or critical habitat. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and /or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Additional Information
The following are some useful links which provide greater detail for permits required for a mining operation: