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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Boom at High Noon

Tualco V. March

When I was a boy growing up along the Columbia River, whistles were a fact of everyday life. Our playground was thousands of acres of sagebrush flats, wheat fields, and rock piles. We were allowed to roam far and wide—as far as we could stray and yet be home in time for dinner. Whistle blasts called us to the house. My mother had an old-fashioned, two-barreled metal whistle on a chain. When it came time to summon us home, she would step out on the front porch of our house by the river and deliver a few hearty blasts that would put a steam locomotive to shame. Each of us children had our own whistle call. I, the eldest child, owned one solitary toot. Sister Claudia, two. Brothers Tim and Kevin, three and four respectively. Five blasts ordered us all scurrying home. Regardless if we were in the next township—that sound traveled for miles, it seemed-- when we heard the plaintive call of the whistle, we stopped in our tracks and began to count.  As a group or somewhere by ourselves, we marked off the blasts that drifted up from the river and knew which of us was summoned or if all were to come.

Years later when I left the fields of play and became a working stiff in the orchards that surrounded the house on the river, my days were marked by another whistle. Martha’s Mill, the source, (the business belonged to Martha Gamble), was the town’s sawmill. Pine saw logs from the Gamble woods were trucked to the mill to be sawn into lumber. The mill workers began the work day with the seven o’clock steam whistle; noon and the lunch hour began with another  toot; and at five o’clock the last shrill blast signaled another day, another dollar…a day closer to the weekend. Though the mill was three or four miles east of our thinning ladders or pruning tools, its whistle delineated our day, too: the morning whistle sent us to the crew truck for the ride to our work; the noon whistle signaled the ride back to camp and lunch; the five o’clock blast, dinner and an evening of rest. In those days shrill blasts of air directed our days.

As Gladys and I chug along the lower Loop Road, a rattling report rocks the Valley, and I think about those whistle blasts of years gone by. I  haven’t worn a watch in years but know instantly what time it is: 12 o’clock, high noon, signaled by Cadman’s one per day only “fire in the hole” explosion. By the time I hear the report, dust is already 100 feet in the air. Cadman blastSound is a funny thing: it always lags the visual fact. I used to marvel at the ax stroke a worker took at a tree stump in the orchard far below my high hill vantage point. When the whack on wood reached me, the axman’s blade was raised on high for another stroke. The speed of sound is a sluggard compared to light speed.

Cadman’s high noon blast reminds me of our local action group, The People for the Preservation of Tualco Valley. I haven’t heard a peep from them in years. The People for Preservation were one of those after the fact organizers who move into the vicinity of a long established business and immediately begin protesting its work routines and operations—rather like those people who moved into the flight path of commercial jets at Sea-Tac International and then screamed “foul” when the airport proposes a third runway.

When it was in its infancy, I attended one of the first meetings of The People for the Preservation of Tualco Valley. The meeting was held at a member’s home near the rock quarry, so far out in the sticks one would have to go towards town just to go hunting. Here my memory fails me about the substance of the meeting. I do know I agreed to be added to the mailing list of other concerned parties in the Valley. For the next several years we received regular updates on the status of the People for the Preservation of Tualco Valley vs. Cadman, may even have contributed to their legal fund. I do remember the company proposed an expansion of its pit, the construction of an asphalt plant, and a doubling of truck traffic in and out of their facility and filed for an environmental impact study. I also know that “harvesting” of rock from the quarry resulted in a burst aquifer, the consequences of which were new ponds, swamps and marshes in the valley below the quarry’s operation. I do believe that the small action group confronted an international corporation and curtailed an expansion that would have impacted all who use the Valley. And Cadman’s grand plans—at least for now—have been mitigated to a midday jolt.

The current recession has pretty much stifled Cadman’s activity; only a few gravel and cement trucks trickle out of the site each day. But when the windows rattle and the floors shake here in the Valley, it is twelve o’clock high. Set your clocks and watches accordingly. 

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  1. Yes, I remember the days weeding in the garden and being frightened by the blast until I quickly remembered what time it must be. There was an episode of "Dirty Jobs," held at Cadman in Monroe (MAHN-rowe), where I got to see exactly what makes it boom. Kinda cool...when it's not in one's own backyard. :)

  2. PPTV (People for the Preservation of the Tualco Valley) still lives. Some of the original Board are still with us, others have passed on, or simply retired, to be replaced by new volunteers. The truth about the original organization is that ALL of the original Board members and most of the active supporters moved here long before Cadman came in. Part of the reason we had such support and success was that Cadman was the newcomer, and people remembered quite well what it was like here before they arrived.

    We don't do regular mailings, and there's no website, so I suppose some folks think we've vanished. We don't have a volunteer to do these things, so we only do mail-outs when something comes up that needs community response.

    We've done quite a few things since the Cadman battle. One thing we do regularly is meet with Cadman and monitor ongoing activities and test data on groundwater and noise. It's true they have been quiet lately; the economy has slowed them down quite a bit.

    Over the years, we have opposed the County's proposal for more Mineral Land Designation in this area (very successful), opposed the State's suggestion to house violent sex offenders at the old Honor Farm (completely successful), opposed the formation of Five Mile Quarry (not successful), and helped organized the petition drive to lower speed limit on the "Murder Mile" of SR203 south of Monroe (finally, partially successful). We have also monitored many, many other land use activities in the area as they have been brought to our attention, filed complaints, done on-the-ground investigations, written letters, or talked to County officials as needed. We are far from inactive. If anyone is interested in volunteering, or has an issue they want brought to our attention, they may contact us at PO Box 1085, Monroe, WA 98272.

    Peg Ferm
    Executive Director for PPTV Board Of Directors