In the mining business, the best neighbors are the ones you never knew you had.
For about 60 years, Lakeside Industries has been that quiet neighbor to Issaquah. They hide their work, a constant crushing and sorting of rock, behind layers of trees and sweep the streets after their trucks.
As its hillside, which butts up against the Highlands, grows smaller with each bite of a backhoe, the construction and mining company has grown ever more concerned about how it will leave its spent land.
The state requires the company to take steps to prevent landslides, such as planting vegetation. However, CEO Tim Lee is hoping to leave something better than the obtrusive facade behind the nearby Fred Meyer.
Once the site of another company’s gravel mine, a wooden barrier, which holds up a barren hill, threatens collapse unless the city acts in the next decade.
Instead Lee envisions a hillside community with homes, parks and businesses. He’s ready to be a new kind of neighbor. The kind that leaves a legacy.
Lakeside set an ambitious goal to draft a 30-year development agreement by the end of the year. Such a plan would give future landowners pre-approval to build and the city more control over the development.
The company, however, is already behind schedule. Lakeside and its gravel pit were so unfamiliar to the Urban Village Development Commission that consultants made little headway during their initial proposal.
The UVDC needed to better understand the new concept of planning a development agreement for land that will continue to change until the mine is dry, said Keith Niven, who is working on the agreement for the city.
Once the million-dollar development agreement is signed, the Lees would likely build a couple hundred homes on the spot of a small finished mine across from the Issaquah Highlands Transit Center. It’s adjacent to its 110-acre pit, which Lakeside won’t develop until after the mine runs dry. It could be a decade, it could be four, Lee said.
On the Lakeside Hillside, backhoes push earth over cliffs. Trucks with wheels as tall as men move the raw material to spidering conveyer belts that shake, sort and crush the rock.
It’s all a stone’s throw from a popular strip mall.
“Everyone can see us, but no one knows we’re here,” Lee says, as he pulls his truck around a hill of used asphalt. A recycle pile, some of the pieces are still marked by road stripes.
While Lakeside has grown its dig operation, most of its money comes from construction projects. When it rehabs a road, the asphalt is recycled.
Lakeside makes most of their own construction materials, except for concrete. Many local roads are made with materials pulled from the hillside.
What started as a small sand and gravel business in Issaquah has grown into 12 locations and 600-800 employees, which vary per season.”I’m proud of everything we do here,” Lee said.
Rock, sand and gravel of various refinements pile beneath the conveyer belt arms. A constant trickle of new material pours over like a dry summer waterfall.
One belt brings material to a round tower for making asphalt. Trucks casually roll beneath the silo to take the hot material to a job. Lakeside builds everything but highway overpasses. They lay pipe, roads and highways.
Lee’s grandfather bought the Issaquah gravel pit along with one in Eastgate 58 years ago. Lee is now among six siblings who own it, and they expect to pass the company down to their children.
While Lee is planning the development agreement, the next generation will carry it out. He doesn’t know whether they’ll play the salesmen or the developers.
“We are making decisions today for the future,” he said.
The agreement still means Lakeside can begin to shape what the land will look like when they’re done. They’ll only need to move the earth once.
“It’s a big scar on the side of the hill,” said Niven, from the city. “What you’re talking about is turning that into a neighborhood…which will make the community a lot better.”
The bottom most part of Lakeside’s processing plant. A structure just as large sits just above.
Looking from the bottom up to the hillside, Lakeside Industry’s gravel pit continues to change is its mined.