It's time to put the facts on the table about what's going on with Mountain View Paving in Talent.
Hearings officer Donald Rubenstein's rulings on the appeal of MVP's nonconforming land use and floodplain usage were delivered Sept. 26. All involved in the hearing process — including 800-plus residents of Talent — received written notices from Jackson County announcing the decision by mail. The hearings officer denied MVP's nonconforming land-use application and declared a secondary floodplain usage application moot because the business' nonconforming use of the land was deemed illegal.
Rubenstein's ruling said nothing about MVP being allowed to continue operating at its current location, scaled back to its 2001 footprint. That story was concocted by Kelly Madding in the Development Services office of Jackson County. It obscures the facts, confuses the citizens and spits in the face of the hearings officer's ruling.
Rubenstein's decision includes a thorough analysis of the land-development ordinance that MVP's attorney used to build a case for MVP to be "grandfathered" at its current location. Rubenstein pointed out that the ordinance hasn't been updated in 20-plus years to distinguish between the impacts of concrete "batching" and asphalt "batching" on human life and/or the environment. His ruling makes clear that by the terms of this poorly worded ordinance, it can be said that "batching" has been conducted on Bear Creek on a residentially zoned property for 20 years. But nowhere did Rubenstein write that the outdated ordinance qualified MVP to operate at any level.
The failure of Jackson County Development staff to update the language of the "batching" ordinance to distinguish between the impacts of mixing concrete and manufacturing asphalt over the last 20 years does not authorize MVP to continue operating in its current location. Rubenstein's decision simply points out the facts about an outdated ordinance and denies the application.
The ruling notes that the kind of "batching" activity MVP began in 2001 — without any land-use authorization — shifted from low-impact concrete mixing to heavy industrial activity that entails aerosolizing petroleum products without regard for the impact on Bear Creek or the 250 seniors living next door.
MVP bought residential land for an industrial business. Rubenstein notes ample evidence that once MVP's operations began in 2001, the owner continually expanded the business for 12 years. Land-development ordinances forbid this. Therefore, he ruled the business operation unlawful. Rubenstein's denial covers an application submitted by MVP for nonconforming land use 12 years after the fact. Period.
The fact that Development Services allowed the business to operate, without permits, for 12 full years while the owner paid less than $600 in taxes per year is outrageous! During a time when essential services for Jackson County taxpayers have been cut to the bone. How can this be?
If it's true, as Ms. Madding has alleged, that Jackson County was "unaware" that residential land was being used for 12 years for full-scale industrial activity, how was that possible? Everyone driving the I-5 corridor has been aware, both visually and from the noxious smoke and fumes, that asphalt was being manufactured on the site. As the owner, himself, has stated often, "It's a little difficult to hide an asphalt manufacturing operation on I-5."
Any "questions" about Rubenstein's decision are only in the minds of the Jackson County Development staff, who have allowed MVP's illegal business activity to damage the health, property values and quiet enjoyment of the homes of senior taxpayers in Talent for 12 years. They don't want to stop — for some reason.
What is going on in the Development Services office that makes is so hard for Ms. Madding and her colleagues to do their jobs — to enforce the law in accountability to the residents and taxpayers of Jackson County?
On Sept. 27, it was Ms. Madding's job to notify MVP that the business must cease and desist its illegal operation at its current location. Instead, Ms. Madding spent her salaried work time Friday meeting with MVP's attorney and then telling a story on the Friday evening news that the Rubenstein decision empowers MVP to continue operating at its current location, just with some modifications.
This story is false. The ruling says nothing whatsoever about modifications that would make MVP's land use legal. The judge's ruling says that the nonconforming land use that has been going on for 12 years is deemed illegal and the application denied. Period.
The citizens of the Rogue Valley are owed the truth. And, at the very least, the taxpayers of Jackson County and the citizens of Talent are owed a swift implementation of the hearings officer's order.
Meri Walker is a member of Talent 4 Clean Air & Water, a citizens' group opposed to Mountain View Paving's operations.