Sunnyside contractor digs despite Yakima County order

Yakima Herald-RepublicMay 31, 2014 

— A construction firm working on the expansion of the Port of Sunnyside’s wastewater treatment plant is continuing to operate in defiance of an order to stop from Yakima County.

County attorneys now plan to seek a court order to force Ag Pro Repair and Fabrication to stop mixing rock and dirt for the storage lagoons that will be part of the Port’s $7.3 million anaerobic digester, paid for with a mix of federal, state and county funds.

At issue is whether Ag Pro, a Sunnyside contractor, is simply grading farmland or surface mining, which would require a great deal more environmental review before the county would allow it, said Dave Saunders, Yakima County building official.

Chris Smeenk, the owner of Ag Pro, denied any wrongdoing.

“I’m within my legal right to do what I’m doing,” he said. “Absolutely.”

He declined to elaborate.

In April, Smeenk and Ag Pro received a green light from the county to dig away less than three acres of basalt and dirt at an unaddressed parcel of Snipes Mountain, just west of Sunnyside, and haul 80,000 cubic yards of material to the Port’s wastewater treatment plant, Saunders said. A grower then plans to plant wine grapes at the dig site.

Later, county staff learned that Smeenk’s company also was crushing rocks and mixing them at the Snipes Mountain site, which constitutes a surface mine by county law. Saunders sent a letter dated May 21 telling the company to stop because they did not have a mining permit.

The company has not stopped.

Defying a county notice of noncompliance could mean fines up to $1,000 per day, though the county has not issued any. County attorneys first plan to seek a restraining order over the disagreement, he said.

A surface mine requires a permitting process that involves multiple state agencies, environmental reviews and a hearing examiner. It could take months, Saunders said.

Meanwhile, Ag Pro has deadlines with Apollo of Kennewick, the general contractor.

“I can understand that everybody involved in those contracts has time and money involved with them, but that doesn’t take away that it’s being done in violation of county ordinance,” Saunders said.

The upgrades to the wastewater plant -- which handles food industry waste, not sewage -- will double the capacity to keep up with an expansion at the nearby Darigold facility, worth more than $60 million.

Ag Pro may solve the problem by simply hauling the rock and dirt to the wastewater plant construction site, which is within the Sunnyside city limits, or another permitted location before mixing and crushing, Saunders said.

Jay Hester, executive director of the Port, is trying to help Ag Pro work that out, he said.

“I got to keep it going,” he said. “I got a bunch of moving pieces on this.”

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