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Former miner still enjoys witching for deposits
  • 3 min to read

WENATCHEE — Minerals are important to Jim Marr.

They were key to his childhood at Holden Village in the early 1940s, his working life as a miner in Wenatchee in the 1970s, and his hobby as a prospector in his retirement years.

“As the saying goes, once a miner, always a miner,” Marr says. “That’s me. It’s in my blood.”

At 84, the Wenatchee man credits his childhood years at Holden with starting his interest in minerals.

Marr’s father, Jim Sr., was a miner there from 1939 to 1945. He had been farming and orcharding in the East Wenatchee area but hard times in those businesses prompted him to make money at the mine. His goal was to eventually get back to farming.

In 1939, the Marr family moved to Lucerne, which is on Lake Chelan nine miles northwest of the city of Chelan. Lucerne was then, and is now, only accessible by boat.

Lucerne is several miles down a winding forested road from Holden, where Howe Sound Mining Co., had set up machinery to mine for copper, lead and zinc. The miners’ quarters and main buildings are now a Lutheran retreat center. In recent years, the mine area has been the location of a $500 million project to clean up toxic materials.

At Lucerne in the late 1930s, housing was available for the miners’ families. After the mining company built housing at Holden, the Marr family moved there when Jim Jr. was 4 years old.

“Dad was what they called a coyote miner,” Marr says. “He hand-drilled 3-by-3-foot holes while laying on his stomach.”

Marr Jr. learned early on that mining was dangerous work.

“I came home from school one day and all I saw was just bloody work clothes,” he says. “There was all this blood. He got a piece of steel in his eye and they had to take him downlake for help.”

His father did not lose his eyesight and was soon back to work.

Other than that, Marr Jr. remembers wonderful times at Holden.

“Every weekend in the summer, the miners played baseball and it was the engineers versus the miners, or the miners versus the muckers,” Marr says. “Usually the miners won because they could hit the ball farther. They were stronger.”

Every Fourth of July, there were games for all the families. Every winter, there were sleigh rides down the winding road through the community.

“We had several sleds and had our toes on each others sleds to form a train,” he says. “On any corner, you’d lose two or three kids.”

In the forest, the boys played army, using pine cones for hand grenades.

The 15 to 17 children who lived at Holden attended class in a two-room schoolhouse.

In 1945, the family moved back to East Wenatchee to tend the family orchard and wheat farm.

Marr feels like the best part of his childhood was at Holden.

“I didn’t want to leave,” he says. “I just loved Holden and the kids. In those few years, I did a lot of livin’.”

In East Wenatchee, Marr lived in “a little white house” that his father had built in 1935. He says the house still stands on the corner of Eastmont Avenue and 10th Street Northeast.

Marr has deep roots in the Wenatchee Valley. His great-grandfather, Gilford Marr, moved here in 1896, heading up a crew that was laying railroad tracks. His grandfather, Wilbur, was a time-keeper for his own father on the railroad. Wilbur Marr also homesteaded on the hills above East Wenatchee. Marr Jr. says Gilford Marr was a big promoter of the YMCA in Wenatchee.

After high school, Marr Jr. took time off from farming and started in on a long list of jobs. Those included working as a billing clerk, meat-cutting and collecting garbage cans for the city of Wenatchee. “That was back when you had to carry the cans on your back,” he says.

In 1959, he joined the Army and met his future wife, Helga, when he was stationed in Germany. After the Army, he worked as a laborer on Wanapum Dam.

Later, he joined his father, working as miners at the Lovitt Mine, which is off Methow Street in south Wenatchee.

“I worked the mucking machine, then was into drilling,” he says.

It was hard work but he loved the adventure of it. He says he was always struck by the newly exposed ground that came after a big drill or a dynamite explosion.

“You’re seeing something that nobody else has ever seen before,” he says.

The Lovitt Mine, which was hauling out gold and silver, opened in 1959 and closed in 1967. Marr Jr. worked there from 1961 to 1967. Today, he is employed as a caretaker by the owner of the old Lovitt Mine property.

Marr Jr. worked for Douglas County road and sign departments from 1972 until he retired in 2000. During much of that time, he also grew wheat on Badger Mountain.

For much of his adult life, Marr has enjoyed prospecting in his free time.

“There is a lot of gold through here,” he says. “I know every hot spot there is.”

Marr uses a two-pronged metal tool for mineral witching. The prongs move dramatically when a mineral deposit is nearby.

He has what he calls a “show-and-tell” box of rocks that highlights many of the minerals in the area.

He knows he’s not about to strike it rich, though. Most of the places where he hits minerals are off-limits to mining, mostly because of private property or federal regulations.

“You don’t do this to get rich,” he says. “It’s just fun to know where the stuff is. I get a thrill out of it.”

He calls prospecting the “most interesting hobby you can get outside of mining. Once you’re a miner, you’re always a miner.”

Biden: Jobs report shows 'long way to go' in economic recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden on Friday said there was a “long way to go” before the U.S. economy recovers from a pandemic-spurred slump and urged Washington to do more to help the American people after a disappointing jobs report.

U.S. job growth unexpectedly slowed in April, likely restrained by shortages of workers and raw materials. Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 266,000 jobs last month. Economists had expected nearly a million jobs to be added.

Biden and his team have said his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, the Democratic president’s first major legislative accomplishment, is helping to bring the economy back from its pandemic plummet.

“Today’s report just underscores in my view how vital the actions we’re taking are,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “Our efforts are starting to work. But the climb is steep and we still have a long way to go.”

The White House is pressing for trillions of dollars more in spending on infrastructure, education and other priorities. Republicans, however, object to the high price tag of Biden’s initiatives and critics have raised concerns about inflation and a disincentive, thanks to generous unemployment benefits, for people to return to the workforce.

The White House dismissed that criticism on Friday. Biden said he had not seen evidence that enhanced unemployment benefits were putting a drag on employment figures.

“It’s clear that there are people who are not ready and able to go back into the labor force,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, citing parents whose children have different return-to-school schedules. “I don’t think the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that is making a difference.”

Jared Bernstein, a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, told Reuters Biden’s COVID relief and stimulus package, known as the American Rescue Plan, had helped generate an average of more than half a million jobs per month over the last three months, April notwithstanding.

“Those are big numbers, and the fingerprints of the American Rescue Plan are all over those additions,” he said.

Bernstein said no course correction was required from the White House, a theme echoed by Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, who pressed for passage of Biden’s next legislative push.

“The disappointing April jobs report highlights the urgent need to pass President Biden’s American Jobs and Families Plans,” she said in a statement.

Republicans viewed it differently.

“Why is anyone surprised that the jobs reports fell short of expectations?,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on Twitter. “I told you weeks ago that in #Florida I hear from #smallbusinesses every day that they can’t hire people because the government is having them not go back to work.”

The share of Americans who are either working or looking for work rose last month, and the number of people who said they are not looking for jobs because of COVID-19 fell by 900,000 in April, Bernstein said.

“What we do see is a lot of people who are still hesitant to go back to work because of safety concerns, care issues, schooling issues, and we’ll continue to watch this very closely,” he said.

World photo/Don Seabrook From right, Wenatchee High School students Sophia Snyder, Sasha McCourtie, and Evan Mueller lay out sheets of fiberglass and epoxy resin over plywood skis they are building in the school's new lab Friday, April 30, 2021. The new mobile trailer where students work on skis and snowboards is in the back parking lot of the school and dramatically cuts the time it takes to make the equipment.

World photo/Don Seabrook Leo Espinoza, 14, is able to grab his sheet music blown from him by the strong winds Thursday, May 6, 2021.

In this December 1933 photo, officials with Goodfellow Bros. gather around their tar-papered office at the Grand Coulee Dam work site. From left are Jim Goodfellow Sr., Bert Goodfellow, John H. Tibbetts (office manager), Hugh Goodfellow (the oldest Goodfellow brother) and Michael J. Gilmore (superintendent).

County cautions builders about permit processing backlog | 90-day delays expected through the summer

WENATCHEE — Don’t expect a quick turnaround on Chelan County building permit applications anytime soon.

“We are experiencing an extreme backlog in permit application processing. Delays, in some cases over 90 days, can be expected,” is the caution posted this week on the county’s website, noting that as of Monday, Community Development staff was juggling 350 open applications.

Community Development Director Jim Brown attributes the backlog to a staff shortage and a rush of permits in January stemming from those trying to get ahead of new state energy code that went into effect Feb. 1 followed by a second wave from those trying to stay ahead of rising materials costs.

Provided photo 

Jim Brown

Chelan County Community Development director

Builders submitted 151 more permits to the county’s planning department in the first four months of this year over last year.

  • January saw a bump of 95 building permits, from 51 in 2020 to 146 this year, connected to the new energy code.
  • February was about even, with 65 last year and 64 this year.
  • March brought 21 more permits this year — 99 compared to last year’s 78.
  • April saw 36 more permits — 101 this year compared to 65 last year.

“Rising materials costs are causing those planning to build to hurry up and try to get permitted before the costs go up even higher,” he said. “We had no way to anticipate that.”

It’s compounded, he said, by staff that is stretched thin. A building permit technician was promoted to plans examiner to help ease that backlog, then the other plans examiner resigned to take a job as a building official elsewhere.

“So we not only had a new person examining plans but still had not backfilled the permit tech post she vacated,” he said.

Normally, permits take anywhere from three weeks to 60-plus days to process depending on the complexity of the project, he said.

“Rarely over 90 days except this last year because of the COVID issue and being mail-in submission only for a building permit,” he said.

The hope had been to catch up with finding and training new hires to fill open positions during the usual winter slowdown after an unexpectedly busy pandemic year.

“We are in full construction season and we had no winter ‘down time’ because of the energy code,” he said.

Given the staffing and workload outlook, he expects the permit backlog won’t be cleared until fall at the earliest, provided “construction season slows down, along with permit applications, presumably dropping off.”

Plans are in the works to streamline the permit process, which will help, but that also takes time.

“We are working on implementing an improved process for simple permits that do not require complex review,” he said. “Actual actions are coming soon, not just more analysis. We know what the problems are.”

They also are working on introducing an electronic plans submission process this summer and expanding in the fall to more electronic forms submissions, he said, “if we can get it accomplished and the bugs worked out. It is not an easy switch given some software limitations, requirements in our codes, and software compatibility problems we have to work through.”

The increased workload this spring has meant some overtime for staff to help address the backlog, but that only goes so far.

“After the high-volume days, most are saying they need the break to stay at their best when on their normal hours,” he said.

Help is on the horizon.

“We just hired someone to fill the tech position,” he said. The new hire has experience in another county, so is somewhat trained and starts in a few weeks.

Interviews are scheduled next week to fill an added permit tech post, he said, but it will take time to get them trained.

The backup plan to help clear the backlog was to hire contractors, which also is taking longer than expected, Brown said.

“So far, we have not found a qualified applicant (for the contract position),” he said.

Finding qualified help — whether contracting for service or hiring staff — is a challenge.

“These are not positions you can just up or down size like day labor staff,” he said. “They are technical and require training and proficiency to be effective.”

The other hold up in adding staff is a familiar refrain.

“One of the challenges to hiring is the very issue we deal with — housing. The cost of housing is out of reach of those with the salaries we can offer, just like many employers are experiencing,” he said. “We are not unique with that problem, but some of our positions are specialized and if you want to attract experienced people in those specialties, you have to have a lure to this area. The cost of housing has become a barrier, in spite of the other lures.”

Things might get worse before they get better, he said.

“We also have a likely impending short-term rental code that will be coming to us by mid-summer,” he said. “That will result in hundreds of applications for those permits, all handled by the same staff. One of the new permit techs is actually for that task, but we are bringing that person on early to help manage the backlog.”

Chelan County Commissioner Bob Bugert said Community Development is doing all it can to handle the record number of permits. He credits Brown for handling the backlog in a “systematic and straightforward way.”

“We are strongly supportive of Jim and his team, some of whom are working very long hours to address this issue,” Bugert said. “They are professional and upbeat in dealing with this demand — even with the inevitable complaints they receive from some permit applicants.”

He notes the department is handling some other big projects in addition to building permit applications.

“The department just completed the update to the Critical Areas Ordinance, they are creating a program to address the proliferation of short-term rentals, creating a new code enforcement program and updating our Shoreline Master Plan,” he said. “Each of them has been a major undertaking in itself. Once they are completed — which could be as early as this July — our director and key staff will be able to reallocate time and effort.”

Brown said he posted the “alert” on the website to make everyone aware of the situation.

“People are calling the office, many of them angry at the delay,” he said. “We did not cause the delay and are doing our best to manage this within all the challenges. ... We are working as fast as we can, and are handling (the building permit applications) in the order they came in. If we can get them out sooner, we will.”