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Originally published Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Disputed lease for Maury Island gravel mine to be reviewed by new state lands commissioner

New state lands commissioner Peter Goldmark wants to review a last-minute lease his predecessor issued for a controversial gravel mine on Maury Island, an arm of Vashon Island in Puget Sound.

Seattle Times environment reporter

New state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wants to review a last-minute lease his predecessor issued for a controversial gravel mine on Maury Island, an arm of Vashon Island in Puget Sound.

But it's not clear what legal power Goldmark has to alter the already signed lease, even if he finds it poses a risk to Puget Sound.

And his spokesman, Aaron Toso, wasn't saying what Goldmark's options are.

"We'll be looking into that," Toso said. "First we need to make sure it's in lock-step with the long term, sustainable vision for Puget Sound."

Toso said the department plans to finish the review by mid-August, when work on a 300-foot dock needed for the mine can resume.

After a few weeks of work, marked by protests, construction was halted in January to protect spawning fish.

The review will examine whether the project is compatible with a newly issued state plan to restore Puget Sound, and whether the $1,500-a-year lease to operate the dock over state aquatic lands is fair.

Goldmark's decision is the latest development in a decadelong saga surrounding the proposal by gravel-mining company Glacier Northwest.

Bill Dunbar, a consultant for the environmental group Preserve Our Islands, said if Goldmark determines the lease is out of line with Puget Sound restoration, it could set the stage for the lease to be revoked.

A group of Democratic state lawmakers have called on the governor to halt the lease and consider revoking it.

Glacier needs the dock to shuttle gravel from the mine to barges. Environmentalists have charged the project threatens habitat used by chinook salmon, and could disturb endangered orcas.

But Pete Stoltz of Glacier Northwest noted that a number of local, state and federal agencies already reviewed the project and issued environmental permits.

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"It will not be a threat to Puget Sound, endangered species, their habitat or the environment on Maury Island," he said in a prepared statement.

He also noted that the lease payments were calculated using a formula in state law, and weren't at the discretion of the state Department of Natural Resources, the agency run by the state lands commissioner.

Todd Myers, a political ally of former Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who was once Sutherland's spokesman at the agency, dismissed Goldmark's announcement as a political favor to donors from Vashon and Maury islands.

"Obviously this is a ruse," Myers said. "Rather than doing a review of all leases that might impact Puget Sound, he's only reviewing the one that impacts his donors."

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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