Columbia River Carbonates cleanup efforts underway

Columbia River Carbonates closed its quarry in Wauconda, and the loading station near to Janis Bridge in Tonasket is set to close over the next year or so, according to officials.

TONASKET – Columbia River Carbonates (CRC) closed their Wauconda quarry this past spring, but will phase out closing their loading site at the Janis Bridge over the next year or so.

According to Reed Sherar, the CRC general counsel who handles all regulatory matters, CRC is in the process of moving the remaining inventory of 6,000 tons of raw material to their plant in Woodland, Wash., which he estimated would take two to three months.

Sherar said CRC also has piles of finer material of small particle size at the site, which they are under contract with Okanogan County to use for road work.

“The county accesses it at their convenience, and with winter coming on they probably won't use it until the spring, but it is earmarked for county use,” said Sherar. “We are in conversation with the Department of Ecology, and have a plan for securing the site and making sure it is cleaned up, but it depends on us getting our inventory out of there.”

Sherar said CRC was looking into the possibility of other companies using the Janice Bridge site, owned by CRC.

“It is a good rail site that could be used by someone else in Okanogan County,” said Sherar. “We would like to see it made available if someone could make good commercial use of it, and then the short-line railroad would have some more business.”

Sherar said one factor in closing the site was the limited service of the rail line. The short line is about 100 miles long, to a transfer station along Highway 97 near Brewster that connects with the main line of Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

“The short-line has been serving Okanogan County for many years, and us since 1986, but their traffic volume went down, which reduced our service abilities,” said Sherar. “They lost a lot of business up there, and we rely on a steady stream of raw material. That slowed down compared to what we were used to for 30 years. It limited our ability to get sufficient amounts of raw material from Okanogan County to make it viable, and that was one of many factors leading to the closure. It's very costly to maintain a quarry mining operation.”

Sherar said CRC was also in conversation with the county about using the Wauconda quarry site.

“They need the raw material for ongoing road work, and we would like to offer it as a resource for Okanogan County,” said Sherar. “As a company, we still consider ourselves citizens, and would like to be good citizens. We appreciate all the county has done for the last 30 years.”

According to their website, CRC's plant in Woodland was established in 1985 as a supplier of high-grade ultra-fine ground calcium carbonate products and technical services for the paper, paint, plastic and other industries throughout the Northwestern United States and Western Canada.

CRC contracted with Sawyer & Sawyer Excavating to haul the calcium carbonate from the Wauconda quarry and load it onto rail cars at the Janice Bridge site, since the quarry first opened in 1985.

CRC's website describes calcium carbonate as originating from the calcite skeletons of tiny sea creatures deposited on ocean floors over 400 million years ago. Over time, extreme pressure and temperature due to continual collisions and folding of the earth's crust transformed the skeletal deposits into the high grade, pure white limestone from which CRC products are made.

Sawyer & Sawyer had 20 full-time employees when the quarry was in operation. Walter Sawyer started the company in 1973, with his son Roger taking over sole ownership in 2002.

With the closure of the quarry, Sawyer & Sawyer shut down and Roger Sawyer purchased DeTros Western Store in Riverside with his wife Lori, a former long time employee of North Valley Hospital.

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