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TV Butte fight: County planning commission closes hearing with decision yet to be announced

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Part of the ubiquitous Oakridge elk herd grazes on private property along Dunning Road adjacent to the proposed major rock quarry. The elk, which are known to frequent the site heavily during calving, were photographed April 16, 2021. Doug Bates/The Herald

By JOHN ROSS/for The Herald  —  Tuesday’s Lane County Planning Commission meeting on the revived Old Hazeldell Quarry project concluded with their decision to close the process to further input and begin deliberations on finalizing its recommendations to the Lane County Board of Commissioners. The decision on whether and when to approve or again deny a necessary change in county zoning from its current forestry designation was left open.

The property known as TV Butte up Dunning Road just outside the city limits sits less than a four-minute drive from downtown Oakridge.

Over the course of three and a half hours of presentations, debate and discussion, the commission members sought to clarify recommendations from the County Planning Department staff and their options in coming to decisions about a half dozen key outstanding differences between applicant Stonebroke LLC, and the planning staff represented by Senior Planner Taylor Carsley.

While several issues have been resolved since the May 18th opening hearing, several major sticking points remain, including:

** Whether a 1500-foot radius of impact is adequate or should be extended further to the area the applicant is required to resolve a range of potential and previously-identified conflicts. Stonebroke LLC, a sheltering reconfiguration of the initially proposing Ed King of King Estates Winery in East Eugene was represented by Attorney Bil Kloos, who strongly objected to expanding the area his client would have to protect from negative impacts. Oakridge and nearby neighbors, the local economy and wildlife, especially resident herds of elk and deer would have to be protected from a wide range of negative impacts;

** Whether the peace and serenity of valley residents and commerce will be shielded from the noise, and shocks during blasting, rock crushing and truck loading and hauling activities inherent in conventional gravel pit mining operations;

** Whether Stonebroke’s offer to repave, widen and modify Dunning Road and intersections down to the intersection of Fish Hatchery Road as well as private driveways is appropriate and adequate to improve visibility and safety. At specific issue is whether the width has to meet standards for traffic speeds up to 55 miles an hour or closer to 30-mile-an-hour-limited curves. Attorney Kloss flatly stated that no one could drive 55 miles an hour on the road and survive. Staff and Commission members pushed back on his assertion, including one commissioner who shared his experience living near two other rock quarries. Drivers on the clock, he said, find ways to push whatever speed limits exist regardless of law enforcement presence;

**Whether and how Stonebroke intends to lessen its impact on both wildlife and scenic appeal in an area that attorney Kloos questioned being within a designated protected corridor;

** Whether water pumped for use for cleaning mining equipment and vehicles and suppressing dust and related runoff issues would potentially affect both resident and City water wells;

**Whether lights and mining dust pollution can be controlled and minimized;

**Whether the wide range of public concerns including monitoring, notification of violations and enforcement are clearly defined and sanctioned and that responsible agencies have the staffing resources to respond;

Tuesday’s public testimony from nearby residents and advocacy group representatives featured pointed questions and widespread concerns, such as:

Su Stella focused on Goal 5 that addresses Open Spaces, Scenic and Historic Areas and Natural Resources. “Goal 5 is supposed to be for future generations covering resources to identify and protect,” she said. She also called attention to the fish hatchery that is right below the quarry. She also noted “Oakridge, historically has about the worst in air contamination and {is} polluted; now worsened by smoke from wildfires. Fire limits when we can go out any more,” she said. “Diesel exhaust smoke will make that worse. We’ll never be able to get out of our houses.”

Sabrina Ratkowski. Handed out printed pages illustrating how close TV Butte and the quarry would be to the downtown area, along with a map that showed the 3-Legged Crane a mere four-minute drive from the proposed quarry site. “People will be able to see and hear the mining.”  She added, her concerns based on short staffing of state enforcement agencies not able to respond quickly to complaints and issues. “We can’t assume there will be enforcement,” she said, adding the County’s funding to promote tourism will have been wasted.

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Oakridge residents protest gravel-mining proposal for TV Butte in 2016.

Louis Pokorny started by asking, “Haven’t we been through this already?” He said he knows where the most toxic sites are from an abandoned city garbage dump from the 50s. The site was added to by Pope & Talbott dumping activity. He’s watched water run off down to the Railroad crossing below and then into the Salmon Creed and eventually the Willamette River. He’s worked feeding a rock crusher and knows firsthand quarry conditions. “I’m just against putting that crusher up there and the dynamiting,” Pokorny said.

Matt Burney testified that stormwater runoff currently moves from the site, into the ground water and eventually the Willamette River down to Eugene. He expressed dismay at not seeing applicant responses to issues raised in public comments. He warned of significant Highway 58 safety issues with eight trucks an hour going to and from the proposed quarry. Burney decried the project’s “arrogance toward the city which I can now predict from Stonebroke people.”

Drew Simrin spoke of the conflicts created with mountain biking, hiking, and other recreational tourism. He added concerns with traffic at intersections, and said he’s driven 55 mph on Dunning Road. He called for a new traffic study, adding “The opposition by locals and others has been consistent.”

George Bell, who also lives off Dunning Read said he has become increasingly concerned about groundwater impacted during fire season. “Our well struggles to produce,’ he explained “that water is pumped from groundwater supplies. And with five thousand gallons per day also taken from there, it will increase the danger to our house. Groundwater is extremely precious to any house,” he said, adding he wants to see core samples to measure the impact of the mining on our river system and ground water. “Keep our region safe and prosperous instead of only prosperous for a handful of people,” Bell concluded.

Jeannie Cabello Pen expressed health concerns. “There’s no good about this,” she said. “The city is against it and it’s right next to town. The dust will bring disease such as lung disease, and cancer.” “We won’t be able to breathe,” she continued “There’s nothing good about it that I can see.”

 

Barbara Counsil Burney led with her concerns about health issues from silica dust and groundwater pollution. Her and her husband share business space in nearby Industrial Park. He’s a metal fabricator and she’s an artist. “We have from 1-5 people working in our building at any given time and have a lot of meetings.” She wondered whether sound “will affect my career for 30-55 years.” She also cautioned about a modern drilling chemical used in blasting that could add to water pollution that needs monitoring. “We just want to know if anybody will be held accountable,” she worried. And regarding Goal 5 scenic and natural features protections, she observed “There’s no positive impact that are apparent that will offset the negative impacts.”

Tyler Cabella Penn: “Common sense seems to have gone out the window,” he charged, asking commissioners to “just say no and deny it.”

Joshua Laughlin, Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands, with eight-thousand-strong supporters, called attention to reports that enforcement of mining has been historically unsuccessful “at every level.” In addition, he claimed, “not a single crumb of significant information has been presented on big game impacts.”

Oakridge resident Gale Pearlman said that she can see TV Butte from her living room window and predicted imminent declines in property values. She also read from her latest letter to County Planning. “Since the April 16 Planning Department hearing on this matter, I have spoken with many Oakridge business people and residents about this proposal,” she wrote. “It’s fair to say the overwhelming reaction here to this plan is horror – horror at what this would do to Oakridge, to the mountain bike trails, to our water, to the elk, salmon, cougars, bear, and other wildlife that live in the forest here, to all of the reasons we live here. Businesses will close, homes (including mine) will be put up for sale, property values will plummet, and Oakridge will cease to exist as we know it.” She closed, “Please don’t let this abomination happen.”

Michelle Emmons McPharlin long-time Oregon trails alliance leader and river cleanup activist predicted mining impacts on local air quality will render the value of recent $4 million in investments by Lane County on air quality as wasted. She noted trail improvements planned for ten years will be negated and the Old Mill Disc Golf Course and network of local trails adversely affected.

Kari Redfield predicted a gravel mine “would basically devastate Oakridge. . .. Impacts that they are not seeing that will happen—not could happen.” She said she came here for wildlife and peace and can’t imagine how it will suffer from the number of gravel trucks going up and down Dunning Road.

High Prairie business owner Allissa Mayer expressed concerns about the impacts on her family’s health and the environment for both humans and wild animals. “The applicant is not addressing any public comments,” she said, adding “That is disturbing.” She went on to predict she will have to relocate her business which involves working with traumatized horses. Ironically, she added, those horses will be further traumatized. “There’s nothing positive I have heard anybody say about this.”

William Pokorney, tele videoing from Portland raised issues from an economic report by Johnson Economics. He said that and other sources prove “There’s no need for a large quarry in that area.” He said that in the long run, “the project is not economically viable.”

Jillian Mardin said she’s been feeling depressed and concerned about the impact to Robin’s Nursery at the entrance to Highway 58 off Fish Hatchery Road. Even with current travels she reported trying to enter Highway 58 and having to wait 15 minutes. “I love this place,” she said.

Senior Planner Carsley summarized noting the possibility of needing to conduct more analyses to help commissioners choose what to recommend to the County Board. He added an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife technical staff were “not the only people saying 1500 feet is not the only area impacted.” He added the Goal 5 Open Space resource designation for the Salt Creek corridor still awaits confirmation and feedback.

Just before a motion to close the meeting was offered, Commissioner Bill Hadley wryly commented that although the application has not changed “Ed King’s generous contributions to campaigns of over $200,000 have changed the makeup of the County Board of Commissioners.”

At that point, a motion to close the record on the case, end the meeting and postpone further consideration to an open-ended date passed unanimously.

John Ross is journalist with over 10 years experience writing and editing for daily and weekly newspapers and at wire service–United Press International International. He has an MS in Ecology, specializing in spider behavior and biological control and also ran a small baking business for 20 years in the San Francisco Bay area. John Ross photo

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