TALENT — Picketers with signs opposing operation of a nearby asphalt plant lined both sides of the West Valley View Road Bridge over Bear Creek Saturday afternoon, drawing honks from passing motorists.
More than 60 people attended a rally in Lynn Newbry Park, then walked to the bridge to highlight their concerns as Jackson County decides whether to allow Mountain View Paving to continue operating even though the plant does not conform to area land-use rules. The plant is next to the park and adjacent to the creek.
"Stop Polluting Our Park," "Save Our Creek" and "Stop Fugitive Emissions" were among slogans printed on demonstrators' signs.
Residents of Mountain View Estates across the creek from the plant organized the rally. Residents have complained about smelly emissions and expanded operations and raised concerns about impacts on their property and the city in the event of a flood.
"Sometimes at 10 or 11 at night they will fire up and make all kinds of noise," said Linda Ruth, a park resident
Other Talent residents also showed up for the protest. Shawnna Morrow, who lives on Ganges Street west of Highway 99, attended with her four children, ages 4 to 11.
"Every day they fire up that plant I wake up with severe rheumatoid arthritis symptoms," said Morrow.
Meri Walker bought a home in the park in March 2012, but summer brought fumes.
"As soon as we finished remodeling, it started getting really smelly," said Walker. "There's smells in the house and outside."
Mountain View Paving has an air quality permit from Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality which allows a portable asphalt plant. No county permit was issued for the operation, which began in 2001, because asphalt plants had operated on the site before current land-use regulations were adopted.
An August 2012 test of the plant's emissions found noncompliance in two areas, but the owner said the problems have been corrected. Mountain View Paving has expanded operations at the site, which led the owner to request approval from the county for its nonconforming use.
At the rally, City Councilwoman Darby Sticker presented a time line of the plant's development, which was listed in the application made to the county.
"If this decision is approved, they will be allowed to grow and develop for as long as they want to," said Stricker. "We have to think about what they will be allowed to do in 10 years and beyond."
Plant owner Paul Meyer's stepdaughter, Kaylin McAnany, of Phoenix, spoke briefly at the rally.
"I want you to look at his point of view," McAnany told the crowd.
Contacted before the rally, Meyer said the plant has operated for only about 30 hours since Thanksgiving. Last year he produced 18,700 tons of asphalt, below the 74,000 tons allowed by DEQ.
Meyer puts an additive designed to take the bite out of the odor of the oil used in the asphalt production. He said it produces a sweet smell similar to cherries.
Jackson County must issue a decision on the applications in time to allow for a 12-day comment period and appeals to a hearing officer, who must issue a ruling by May 24.
Environmental groups and the city of Talent have submitted comments on the applications.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.