TALENT — Mountain View Paving of Ashland has operated an asphalt plant just outside of Talent since 2001, and the company's owner wants to continue.
But Jackson County, the city of Talent and environmental groups are trying to sort out whether the plant is legal for the site, and if not, what to do about it, if anything.
The parties involved seem to agree that the plant, south of Lynn Newbry Park between Interstate 5 and Bear Creek, doesn't conform to existing land-use regulations for the site. On top of that, it's in the flood plain.
After complaints to the county from unnamed sources, the company has filed applications with Jackson County for permission to stay in business, and a decision is expected later in the year.
"My understanding is that they are out of compliance with county regulations, and they are applying for permission to continue to be out of compliance," said Forrest English, program director for Rogue Riverkeeper, which has filed comments on the company's application with the county. "We don't think it's appropriate to site an asphalt batch plant in a flood plain, contrary to county regulations (that allow such siting)," said English.
Owner Paul Meyer says he's following environmental regulations, and the use of the site for a batch plant is "grandfathered."
Meyer said otters live in a wetland on the 11-acre site, and he said that inspection visits by various government agencies have not led to any orders for changes.
Mountain View has filed two applications with the county, one for a Lawful Non-Conforming Use Verification and another for a Floodplain Development Permit. The first application claims that the site was used for an asphalt plant before initiation of existing regulations, and therefore the use is allowed to continue.
English sent a letter on Dec. 5 to county planners disputing the claim of prior use, noting a lack of evidence from photos and government agency records to substantiate the assertion. DEQ records show no requests for permits before 2001. They also cite a 2001 Mail Tribune article stating the firm had purchased a portable asphalt plant and planned to locate on the site.
Meyer said batch plants existed on the site in the 1960s when I-5 was built and during the 1970s.
Riverkeeper's letter asserts that a batch plant is not appropriate in a flood plain because of the presence of toxic petroleum products, and it states that county regulations call for development in flood plains to be done in ways that minimize potential damage in the event of a flood.
"(The applications) are in the process of staff review," said county Development Director Kelly Madding.
A final decision on the applications is due by May 24, said Madding. Staffers will issue their ruling with enough time to allow for a 12-day appeal period and for a hearings officer to take input and render a decision by the deadline date, she added.
The site is not within Talent city limits but is inside the urban growth boundary. Mountain View has an easement to travel through Lynn Newbry Park, which the city leased from the Oregon Department of Transportation in November.
The Talent City Council heard a briefing on the situation at its Wednesday meeting and is seeking additional information.
Mountain View has 15 employees and serves customers in six Oregon and five California counties, said Meyer. While permits allow production of up to 74,000 tons of asphalt per year, the plant has never exceeded 22,000 tons annually, he said.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.