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Eugene Weekly : News : 12.16.10

Small Town Strip Mine

Dexter’s Parvin Butte is slated to become a quarry

By Camilla Mortensen

When loggers started clearcutting Parvin Butte 20 miles outside Eugene, leaving behind smoking burn piles, no one in the small town of Dexter was that surprised. Timber pays the bills in a lot of rural areas. But then residents discovered that Lost Creek Rock Products intended to dynamite and strip mine the butte as well, to extract more than 60 million tons of aggregate — crushed stone, sand and gravel. 

John Tyler on property bordering Parvin Butte. Photo  by Camilla Mortensen

There are two permits to exploit Parvin Butte’s resources. One is for logging and the other is for mining. Neighbor John Tyler worries that with two agencies, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), assigned the task of overseeing two different permits, things are falling through the cracks. 

Tyler, a retired Air Force pilot, came to Dexter 38 years ago to raise his family. He bought a couple acres of land with a view of Lost Valley, near scenic Parvin Butte. The butte, Tyler points out on a map, is surrounded by 353 homes. He estimates that 1,100 people will be impacted by the butte’s destruction. “The other thing that’s worrisome,” he says, “is the impact on water.”

Lost Creek runs right through the 64-acre property. Eve Montanaro of the Middle Fork Watershed Council says the creek is one of their highest priorities for protection and enhancement. Lost Creek is unobstructed by dams and offers some of the last remaining habitat for spring Chinook in the Middle Fork basin. “The support to protect and enhance the Lost Creek basin by local residents is phenomenal,” Montanaro says.

The creek is on the property, but not within the 51.5 acres that are within the permit boundary of the quarry. The permit application says the quarry is two miles from Dexter. The map shows Dexter’s post office is within 1,500 yards of the quarry. According to the application there are no nearby streams that flow year round. Lost Creek is 500 feet east of the permit boundary.

The permit to mine Parvin Butte can be viewed on the website for Oregon Land Company, which lists the property as for sale. Oregon Land lists millions of dollars of land for sale, including lots earmarked for logging and the development of subdivisions along the McKenzie River as well as proposed subdivisions in Veneta.

A document on Oregon Lands’ website that analyzes the quality of rock in the proposed quarry is in the name of Greg Demers and his ATR Land LLC. Neither Demers’ name nor that of frequent collaborators in land speculation the McDougal brothers shows up in relation to Oregon Land at first glance. But the post office box listed is the same as the McDougals’ and Demers’ other company of note: Willamette Water Company. Willamette Water has applied for a water right on the McKenzie River, claiming it wants to supply drinking water to rural communities. Lost Creek Rock Products is another of the McDougals’ and Demers’ investments.

David Schaeffer’s house is a two-minute walk from Parvin; he even trimmed his trees so he could see the butte from his upstairs window. Schaeffer says he called the McDougals’ office 10 times, maybe more, to ask them about their plans for the butte, but they never responded until the day he called “acting like I was going to get a job.” He wasn’t lying about the job. “If things get terrible,” he says, at least all he’d have to do was cross the railroad tracks that separate his house from the butte property and he’d be at work.

Tyler says the mining permit calls for a 200-foot buffer between the mining operations and the property line and permit boundary. The trees on the property have been cut right up to the neighbors’ backyards as well as up to 100 feet from the creek. After the logging took place, DOGAMI and ODF discussed exactly who regulates the removal of the trees and whether the removal constitutes logging or mining. According to an email from DOGAMI to Sen. Floyd Prozanzki, “DOGAMI and ODF agreed that if the trees were logged then the logged area was replanted (in compliance with the Forest Practice Act Permit) the removal of trees in this scenario constitutes logging.” Conversely, if the trees were logged and the landowners started strip mining, “this scenario would constitute mining operations.” The agencies concluded because the trees would be replanted and mining wouldn’t take place near the creek, cutting down the trees qualified as ODF-regulated logging, not DOGAMI-regulated mining. 

“I’m probably Don Quixote, tilting at windmills,” Tyler says, “because agencies do what they do. But who is going to look out for the public good?”

Tyler and other concerned neighbors in Dexter asked for a meeting Dec. 1 to discuss the issue. Prozanski, Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart, county staff and more than 100 neighbors attended. Lane County has determined there needs to be a site review, Stewart says. “What that will entail is them proposing what they’re going to do, being really detailed in their operation, and backing up and supporting what they’re going to do,” he explains.

 “At the meeting,” Stewart says, “the land owners were basically making the statement that ‘We don’t believe under Lane Code that a site review is needed.’”

Bill Kloos, one of the attorneys for the landowners, responded to questions via email. “The owners committed at the community meeting to get any required county permits, he writes. “At the same meeting county staff Jane Burgess confirmed that the discussion about whether the code requires site review at this site is continuing, not done. The owners are working on that assumption until they hear to the contrary from the county.”

Stewart says, “They may or may not want to, but they should address issues such as noise, particulate matter, dust and traffic through this site review process.”

A site review would allow for a public comment period. Stewart says if Lost Creek Products began operating the quarry without the site review, the landowners would be ordered to cease and desist and could possibly face fines. But he points out that the two permits make it very difficult to see what is really going on — if there is road building on the site, is it for the mine or the logging?

John Tyler says, “I can’t figure out how they can get away with this.” 

See the Dec. 9 story “Freshwater Fisticuffs” for more on the Willamette Water Company.