Ruling leaves questions about Talent asphalt plant's future

TALENT — Two sides have declared victory in a ruling on the legality of an asphalt plant located on Bear Creek next to the city.

A Jackson County hearings officer overturned a county decision that said Mountain View Paving's asphalt plant is legal, based on appeals by an environmental group and the city of Talent.

County Hearings Officer Donald Rubenstein in a Thursday ruling rejected the county's determination because the firm had added buildings at the site and expanded the area used without approvals. But he also ruled the operation is an established, lawful, non-conforming use as it was configured in 2003.

"My understanding is the application has been denied. (The owner) has no authority to operate there, so he basically has to cease operations," said President Steve Rouse of Rogue Advocates, which filed an appeal.

Mountain View Paving owner Paul Meyer and his attorney, Dan O'Connor, both said they regard the determination as a victory.

"I'd say it's a victory for Paul and the operation," said O'Connor. "We'll evaluate whether we want to explore an expansion of non-conforming use application or whether we will just remove the buildings."

Talent officials are uncertain what the ruling means.

"There's a number of ways it could go. We'll just have to wait and see," said Talent Mayor Bill Cecil.

The decision, which is the county's final action, can be appealed to the Oregon's Land Use Board of Appeals within 21 days.

"In essence, it allows for an asphalt plant in the configuration with the buildings shown in 2000 and 2003 aerials," said county Development Services Director Kelly Madding. The ruling basically overturned the March 27 staff decision, said Madding.

Madding said she felt her staff made a correct decision given the information available. Additional information was allowed to be introduced at a June 24 hearing.

"In one sense, it can be a whole new environment," said Madding. "There was significantly more information available to the hearings officer than the staff."

Madding confirmed that the firm could seek approval for the additional structures. O'Connor said county precedent allows continuation of operations while landowners seek to remedy uses that have not been approved.

Mountain View has operated an asphalt batch plant at the site since 2001. A 2011 complaint to the county led to the firm requesting a determination that the plant was legal.

Residents in nearby Mountain View Estates, across Bear Creek, have complained of noise, dust, odors and increased hours of operation. Concerns about the operation's impact during a flood also have been raised. Much of the operation is in the floodplain and some in the floodway.

Mountain View Estates owner Chris Hudson said the final bridge hasn't been crossed, but that a big mountain was moved with the ruling. More than 40 people celebrated in the clubhouse Thursday, she said.

"I'm very pleased that Donald Rubenstein "¦made a decision to deny the application," said Hudson. "I'm thankful for Talent residents who want to see the clean air and water restored."

Hudson expressed appreciation to both the city and Rogue Advocates for pursuing the appeal.

"We are pleased that the hearings officer reviewed carefully all of the evidence and found that there had been an illegal expansion of the use on the property," said attorney Courtney Johnson of Craig Law Center, who represented Rogue Advocates.

Batching operations have been conducted on the site continually since the 1960s, Rubenstein found after reviewing testimony and documents.

Aerial photos from 2000 and 2003 reveal a relatively compact area in use with perhaps 10 structures, Rubenstein wrote. But 2013 site plans and a recent aerial show 16 structures across an enlarged area.

Most notably, a 46-by-70-foot shop built atop cargo containers was not at the site in 2003. That structure would require an application, but there is no evidence of such a request.

Substantial conflicting evidence was submitted on whether a batch plant has operated at the site since the 1960s. Rubenstein ruled that batch operations had been there on a continuous basis. Testimony showed there was a concrete batch plant there from 1978 to 2000.

Rogue Advocates argued that continuous presence of an asphalt batch plant was not established, but Rubenstein noted that county development ordinances do not distinguish between concrete and asphalt batch plants.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.


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