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Rural Residents Worry Over New Mining Operation

“Here we go again. Big money moves into a neighborhood and excavates 40 feet into the ground near the river,” Wende Hitchcock says in exasperation. She says a gravel site along the Coast Fork of the Willamette River near Delight Valley Road has applied to the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) to expand its operations, including excavation and asphalt production. Hitchcock and other neighbors fear impacts to the rural community from noise and trucks to possible affects on wildlife and water. They will be having a meeting to discuss their concerns at 6:30 pm Monday, April 7, at Head Start, 79980 Delight Valley School Rd.

Mike Miller of NW Mineral Resources has filed an operating permit for an approximately 23-acre site in addition to a 70-acre grandfathered mine site a half mile northwest of Saginaw. The area is zoned for aggregate resources (gravel mining) but according to a letter to reviewing agencies from Vaughn Balzer, a reclamationist with DOGAMI, the area has been in agricultural use since 1968 and “these soils are considered prime soils for irrigated farming.”

Hitchcock says she has owned her property near the proposed mining operation for 30 years and though she knew about the older, exhausted mining site near the river, she didn’t know that what appeared to be an agricultural area near her house was actually zoned for mining, let alone for asphalt production. She says neighbors are worried that the noise and pollution of mining could affect their wells, nearby nesting eagles and osprey as well as the Head Start school and nearby Saginaw Vineyards. 

Balzer says this sort of conflict is happening more and more in rural Oregon. Quarries were traditionally located on the outskirts of town, but as towns grow and more people move into rural areas, their homes are near one of hundreds of areas that were zoned for mining 30 or 40 years ago.

Miller says the sand and gravel he plans to mine is for the community of Cottage Grove, and he adds, “We are just trying to get the rock quarry up and running so it is a viable, usable service for the community that hasn’t been operating to its full extent.”

He says the fact that the area was zoned for mining is public record, and “select neighbors bought knowing it was sand and gravel,” who,  Miller says, are now making it difficult for him to operate.

“Everybody thinks we are these bad guys, but we are working under the regulations the county gave us,” he adds.

Balzer says his understanding is that the permit “does require a site plan review at the county and that would typically come with some form of public input.” Site reviews deal with issues such as roads used for trucks hauling gravel and noise and dust abatement. EW has asked Lane County if there will be a site review but has not heard back by press time.

Hitchcock says several of the neighbors suffer from asthma and neighbors worry they won’t have any input on what happens in their community. “We don’t have any say in the matter,” she says.