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Eugene Weekly : News : 11.23.11

Quarry Quandary

Families fight a gravel mine in Cottage Grove

Five years ago Marc Bass thought he had found his Oregon dream home. Retired from the military, Bass and his family bought a house and land just outside Cottage Grove where they have llamas. A week after they moved in, he says he found out that he was living next door to a proposed gravel quarry, a fact that the owner of the property, who also happened to own the quarry, didn’t disclose, Bass says. 

Bass soon joined with other neighbors in the Quaglia Road/Mosby Creek area to stop Donald Overholser and Rodney Matthews from creating a gravel pit in the middle of their rural neighborhood. They formed “Families For A Quarry-Free Neighborhood,” and continued a fight that had begun years before to keep the quiet area of small horse farms and houses from becoming home to blasting, rock crushing and truckloads of gravel. Their case is currently awaiting judgment by Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals. Attorney Dan Stotter argued for the neighbors before LUBA on Oct. 25 and says he expects a written decision from LUBA four to six weeks after that hearing.

In the mid-1990s Matthews and Overholser fought to have the land where the quarry would sit re-zoned from forestland to natural resource land that allows for mining  and rock operations. They won the four-year fight, which also went all the way to LUBA, and as a result, Lane County amended its Land Use Plan in 1996 to reflect the natural resource designation. Overholser died this month, and it’s unclear if his death will affect the mining proposal, Bass says. 

Lane County documents show the mine operators propose to extract 20,000 cubic yards a year for 35 years from the approximately 18-acre mine, and mine operators have proposed as many as 16 heavy truck trips a day Monday through Saturday to move all that gravel.

In 2007 the prospective mine operators began a Lane County site review process. The families, Stotter says, were fine with the restrictions that were put on the mine through the site review. The restrictions limited the number of truck loads, limited the trucks’ speeds to 20 mph, called for the gravel road to be upgraded and to have intersections made safer. The restrictions also included limiting how often rock could be blasted. 

Bass says he and other families have been worrying about the effects of the noise on their animals, the effects of the dust on farms, homes and wildlife, the possibility of declining property values and the fact that the road, which would be filled with gravel trucks, is shared with school buses and children.

The permit that was issued addressed these concerns, Stotter says, and the families didn’t appeal the permit when it was issued to the mine operators because they were satisfied with the restrictions. 

However the mine operators did appeal the permit. According to the appeal written by the attorney for the Quaglia quarry, Joe Leahy, the required road improvements were not in proportion to the impacts on the roads that the quarry trucks would cause. He wrote that evidence shows “the applicant’s proportionate share is between 8.33 and 12 percent of the capacity improvements, not 100 percent.” The road has previously been used as a logging road.

 Ironically, because the families didn’t protest the permit they were not allowed to participate in the next stage of hearings. Lane County then issued the permit to the quarry without the restrictions. 

Stotter points out, “If you take away the conditions, it no longer meets approval at all.”

The families appealed to Lane County’s commissioners, who declined to hear the appeal. This was what the families actually wanted, Stotter says, as it meant the case would go to LUBA. 

In addition to fears about effects on the rural neighborhood, neighbors have expressed worries about the quarry’s possible effect on their wells and nearby Carolina Creek. The quarry operators have proposed a settling pond that will capture and divert excess sediment, according to supporting documents from a geologist with EGR & Associates that were filed with Lane County. The documents claim wells will not be adversely affected by the blasting and “aquifer impacts from the excavation itself were shown to not be significant.”

Rock crushing can emit particulate matter, and the dust from mining operations can affect air quality, another source of concern for the Families For A Quarry-Free Neighborhood. The dust and air quality concerns would be monitored by Lane Regional Air Protection Agency. Water pollution would be monitored by Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. But Bass wonders if there will really be any enforcement by the county or other agencies if the quarry goes through and it violates its permits.

Bass says, “It’s his land, absolutely. It’s free enterprise,” but he says there are other quarries that are not in the “the midst of a community where it’s going to affect people, and affect kids as they are waiting for the bus.”

Part of an ongoing EW series on mining in Oregon.