Black Diamond | KUOW News and Information

Black Diamond

Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Seattle is growing like crazy. But it’s not the only place in our region that’s taking off. KUOW’s Region of Boom team is looking at the impact of Seattle’s growth on communities within a commuting range of about an hour away to see how they are adapting to the pressures of growth.

Black Diamond is a former coal town that is on the verge of big development. We're looking at how those tensions are playing out in a small community that could rapidly become a lot larger.

We’ll be turning to other communities in the coming months. Have a story for us? Or want to let us know where to go next?

Reporter Carolyn Adolph stands on a development site near Black Diamond, WA. Her fellow reporter Joshua McNichols is behind the camera.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Bill Radke speaks with KUOW reporters Joshua McNichols and Carolyn Adolph about what they learned from their time reporting in Black Diamond for KUOW's Region of Boom team.

KUOW Photo/Posey Gruener

If this ghost town had a mayor, it would be Don Mason.

Back in the 1970s, Mason was hiking when he stumbled on evidence of a town called Franklin. He’d never heard of it. Since then, Mason has been collecting proof that a town once sat on this hillside, high above the Green River Gorge. 

KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Bill Radke speaks with Kristen Bryant, Dennis Box and Johna Thomson about the controversy surrounding a planned development in Black Diamond.

Bryant is a member of Save Black Diamond, an organization that opposes the development. Thomson is a community volunteer who thinks the town would be better off if citizens worked with developers to make the best of inevitable change. Reporter Dennis Box has been following the development fight.

Commander Brian Martinez of the Black Diamond Police Department.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Black Diamond is a small city on the verge of big growth.

It recently came through a budget crisis that threatened to shut down the city – including its police department.

Kara McDermott of KUOW's Region of Boom talked with Commander Brian Martinez about how the city is now moving forward.

Harold Nesland III owns Sahara Pizza in Snoqualmie and Black Diamond.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

A woman, a new resident of the huge Snoqualmie Ridge development, had called in for pizza.

It was the first pie order for one of those new shiny houses, and Harold Nesland III, owner of Sahara Pizza, drove it over.

Moon Bang, originally from Korea, owns the Black Diamond Bakery. She has periodically encountered racism since she bought the bakery 10 years ago.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Our region was built with immigrant labor. It’s part of the story of growth and development here. There are many ways to tell that history. How we tell it signals who belongs, and who is a foreigner.


KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

As we all know from living here, our region’s roads haven’t been keeping up with population growth.  If they were, we wouldn’t be sitting in so much traffic.

It’s a longstanding problem coming soon to Black Diamond, which is embarking on one of the largest developments in King County.

Johna Thomson attends a meeting hosted by KUOW to talk about the development that is coming to Black Diamond, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Bill Radke speaks with Black Diamond resident Johna Thomson about a planned development that will quadruple the size of her town and why she thinks Black Diamond should stop fighting over the development and start focusing on getting the most out of it.

Bill and Cindy Wheeler have lived on Lake Sawyer for 30 years, but they don't know the weir master.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Our region’s rapid growth is straining our lakes, especially little lakes on the fringes of urban areas. When growth approaches, the communities around them aren’t always prepared to protect them from pollution. 


Black Diamond City Council was mired in disagreement over the city's 2017 budget. Council member Brian Weber ended that by making a gesture of 'good faith'.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The city of Black Diamond has a 2017 budget at last.

The City Council voted to approve the budget Thursday night after being divided for months.

For this map, we combined a map from 1919 with Google maps to approximate modern roads and living areas. We then took satellite maps from the City of Black Diamond showing proposed new developments and sketched those out as well.
KUOW Graphic/Kara McDermott

A mega housing development is going up in Black Diamond outside Seattle, and some of those houses could be built on top of old mine shafts.

Bill Kombol, manager of Palmer Coking Coal, which is still in operating in Black Diamond, though it hasn’t mined in the area for years.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Ours is a region full of hazards, including earthquakes and slides.

It’s also a region where the rising cost of housing has been pushing people to the edges of the region to look for homes. But as people go farther out, they encounter a hazard not seen in the city: abandoned coal mines.


The Oakpointe development in Black Diamond has already cleared land.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Bill Radke speaks with Dennis Box, editor of the Enumclaw Courier-Herald, about what he's learned in his years covering the struggle over development in Black Diamond, and why he thinks the story of this small town "goes to the very core of who we are."

"One side is a developer with this vision, it's a remarkable vision, of creating this town. But on the other hand you have a story of people living their lives in a place that they expected to stay one way. And suddenly it's not staying that way," Box said. 

In a company town, says Leonard Garfield, 'you spent your whole day, and all of your night, working for the company whether you knew it or not.'
Courtesy of MOHAI, 1978.6585.30

Bill Radke speaks with Leonard Garfield, executive director of the Museum of History and Industry, about what it was like to live in Black Diamond, Washington, when the Pacific Coast Coal Company ran the mines — and also rented the homes, sold the groceries, hired the doctors, and brought in the entertainment.

For a laborer in that kind of environment, Garfield says, "you can imagine that you could build up some resentment."

Mine #11 in Black Diamond supported a workforce of 400-500 people, underground and on the surface. This mine operated from 1896 to 1927. Photo is from 1904.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Negative No. UW-23734.

The hill at Palmer Coking Coal Company in Black Diamond is smoldering. 

A vacant lot in Black Diamond, Washington
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Do we have enough land for all the people moving to Washington state? There’s a bill working its way through Olympia that would change how planners would answer that question. It’s backed by builders and realtors.

KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Residents of Black Diamond, Washington tell KUOW Producer Posey Gruener about their hometown  and what they think of a planned development that will significantly change it.

Mount Rainier looms behind the site of the Oakpointe development in Black Diamond, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Bill Radke speaks with Kristen Bryant, member of the development watchdog group Save Black Diamond, about why she continues to fight a near-inevitable development and what she thinks of those in town who criticize her efforts.

Artist's rendering of Oakpointe's 'Ten Trails' development
used by permission from Oakpointe Communities

So how did King County's largest development in recent history end up way out in Black Diamond?

It happened in part because of Black Diamond's history as a company town. 

KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Black Diamond is a city of 4,000 people southeast of Seattle. It's a haven for cyclists headed for Mount Rainier, and a historic coal mining town. But a huge housing development has loomed over this small town for 20 years, and the tension over it is tearing the city apart.

KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

The Black Diamond City Council is racing toward a deadline to pass a city budget. It was supposed to be in place at the end of last year.

But there are two competing versions of the budget, and Thursday night's meeting settled nothing.

Development signs in Black Diamond
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

The City of Black Diamond may have to shut down, according to its mayor. That is, unless the mayor and the City Council can agree on a budget for 2017 at a meeting Thursday night.

Mary Ann and Bill McDermond have lost friends over their opposition to the massive project that's being built in Black Diamond
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Mary Ann and Bill McDermand moved to Black Diamond 23 years ago for the peace, tranquility and the strong sense of community. Their kids used to play with the neighbors kids, she said, “and we just got along good with everybody.”


The Black Diamond Museum sits in the town's old railroad depot. Trains no longer run through the city.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Emily Fox speaks with Joshua McNichols and Carolyn Adolph about their team reporting project, Region of Boom, which explores the growth of our region, one town at a time.