Years of controversy on the Applegate River over proposed gravel mines have rumbled through the halls of the Oregon Capitol. Hoping to end the dispute, Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced this week he wants to get all parties together to see whether gravel can be mined while maintaining or improving the ecology of the river.

Years of controversy on the Applegate River over proposed gravel mines have rumbled through the halls of the Oregon Capitol. Hoping to end the dispute, Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced this week he wants to get all parties together to see whether gravel can be mined while maintaining or improving the ecology of the river.

"It's about looking at the river holistically," said Joan Resnick, who is manager for the governor's Oregon Solutions project. "People are tired of the paradigm that we've got to fight to the bitter end to be heard."

Resnick will be meeting with landowners, groups that have voiced opposition to gravel projects, environmental organizations and Copeland Sand and Gravel, which is the major aggregate operator along the river and wants to expand its operations.

Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith and Josephine County Commissioner Dwight Ellis will lead community forums toward a "Declaration of Cooperation" that ultimately might be signed by all organizations.

"We want to create a forum where the issues can be addressed in a courteous, thoughtful and nonthreatening or nonconfrontational environment," said Smith. "It's just an old-fashioned way of neighbors getting together and see what we can do and what we can't do."

All parties need to acknowledge that the community does need aggregate, which is used for roads, houses and backyard building projects, said Smith.

Ranch owner Phil Krouse and nearby landowners John and Wesley Hill have battled with neighbors over the years in their attempts to develop a plan in which Copeland Sand and Gravel Inc. of Grants Pass could dig gravel along parts of the Applegate. Copeland already has a major gravel operation along the river.

Bill Peterson, Copeland's director of administration, said he sees the goal of the governor's project to look at the river as a whole rather than any specific operation.

"We want to see if we can produce aggregate in a manner that at best is enhancing to the environment and fishery, and, at least, be neutral," he said.

Jeff Anderson, spokesman for Save Our Applegate Valley Environment, said his group is willing to listen to all parties, and particularly to any scientific evidence that would support mining in the Applegate.

To date, though, he said the evidence doesn't support safely extracting gravel in a river with as wide a floodplain as the Applegate.

Based on his personal inquiries, Anderson said, "It became very clear to me that the Applegate is not a good candidate for extraction."

Jack Shipley of the Applegate Partnership and the Applegate River Watershed Council said local residents can continue to fight over gravel operations along the river or choose to work things out.

"From my perspective, I see it as an opportunity to see if we can approach it differently," he said.

But Shipley said the scope of the project is to look at gravel operations generally, but not discuss specific proposals such as the Hill or Krouse properties. At the same time, the discussions will deal with the environmental ramifications of mining.

"We are not attempting to undertake the issue of the folks who say 'not-in-my-backyards,' " he said. "The noise, the traffic issues are not the issues we're talking about."

However, he said it's possible that by working out whether gravel can be ecologically mined from the riverbed, some of these other problems could be resolved as well. Issues such as transportation, noise or dust, however, might have to be worked out at a county level, he said.

"The traffic issue is a sticky wicket," he said. "I don't know if we're going to have answers for all of those things."

Shipley, who signed an agreement to participate in the project, said Kulongoski is interested in finding some resolution on the Applegate so it could be potentially used as a template for resolving differences on other rivers in the state.

"If we can do something here in the Applegate, it can be used elsewhere," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.