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Drago in Play in County Council Maury Island Fight

By Erica C. Barnett October 11, 2010

This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that, if elected, Joe McDermott will replace Jan Drago in November, not next year.

Controversial gravel-mining company Glacier Northwest has been lobbying the King County Council heavily in recent weeks to exempt it from new shoreline rules intended to protect Maury Island (a designated aquatic reserve) from development. Glacier has a permit to build a barge-loading dock on the shore of Maury Island, enabling it to move gravel from its mine on Maury to places like Seattle and Tacoma.

The county council is working on an update to King County's shoreline management program, which has not been updated in 30 years. As part of the update, the program would designate the shoreline of Maury Island as a "natural" area instead of the "resource" area it is now, making Glacier's dock a "nonconforming use"---and making it tougher for Glacier to expand or otherwise change the dock in the future. Glacier is asking the council to exempt its dock from the natural designation.

Glacier lobbyist Joe Quintana says that not only does the mining company have a permit to build its dock, two courts have said it has the right to do so. "We contend, on extremely strong legal ground, that this issue has been litigated and we are entitled to have our conveyor dock be usable," Quintana says.

Numerous sources say Glacier has the support of the council's four Republicans; the question now is whether Democrat Jan Drago, who holds the seat that will likely be filled by state Sen. Joe McDermott in November, will go Glacier's way. The council's other four Democrats are expected to vote against the Glacier exemption, but Drago is reportedly on the fence.

Complicating matters further, if that's possible, is the question of whether Drago, who agreed to fill Constantine's seat temporarily until this year's election, should vote on the Maury designation at all; some, including state Rep. (and longtime Maury defender and vocal Glacier critic)  Sharon Nelson, believe the council should wait until McDermott joins them next year.

There's no question which way McDermott would vote. "There are pieces of Puget Sound that need particular protection because of their value to aquatic life, and this is one of them," says state Sen. Joe McDermott, who's favored to win the county council seat vacated by Dow Constantine when Constantine became county executive. "The county should respect that by retaining the natural designation. A large barge facility is not appropriate."

The council faces a December 1 deadline to vote on the designation; however, the state Department of Ecology has said there are no penalties if they decide to wait.

County Council chair Bob Ferguson says he's "not a fan" of missing the December deadline. "A deadline is a deadline, so my plan is to take up a vote before December."

(Another political wrinkle in all this: Drago's aide, Mike Heavey, is running against Joe Fitzgibbon, a former Nelson aide, in the race for 34th District state representative. Heavey says he has "always opposed" Glacier's mining operation; he's currently on leave and tells PubliCola he doesn't know how Drago will vote.)

Even if the council does vote before McDermott takes Drago's seat, and even if the vote does go Glacier's way, Constantine could still veto the legislation---pushing it past the deadline and into next year, when the council's Democratic majority, now including McDermott, would be almost certain to oppose the Glacier exemption.
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