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Opp Mine owner ends LUBA appeal

JACKSONVILLE — City officials and residents who live near the old Opp Mine are celebrating mine owner Frank Hardin's decision to drop his zoning appeal to a state land use agency.

The Land Use Board of Appeals on Monday, at Hardin's request, dismissed his appeal seeking rezoning of his 157-acre woodland resource property to allow for blasting and extensive gravel mining.

Hardin and his business partner, Medford attorney Bob Robertson, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Ross Day, an attorney for Oregonians in Action, the property rights group that has been representing Hardin, confirmed his client requested the dismissal.

The LUBA dismissal leaves standing a unanimous decision by the Jackson County board of Commissioners in May rejecting Hardin's efforts to mine thousands of tons of gravel and undetermined amounts of gold from the old mine.

Hardin's decision was welcomed by residents of the surrounding rural neighborhood and by the town of Jacksonville, said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen.

"This is great news," said Wyntergreen. "We had no doubt that we would prevail. But we're more than happy not to have to go through the exercise."

Neighbors concerned with issues such as possible soil and air contamination and lost property values hope Hardin has dropped his dogged effort to extract gravel from the site along with the LUBA appeal, said Mark VonHolle, a neighbor and Opp Mine opponent.

VonHolle said he empathized with Hardin wanting to realize a profit from the property. VonHolle recently discussed with Robertson the potential use of the land as a vineyard, "or possibly pursuing rezoning for 10 acre home sites," he said.

"There would be little if any opposition to either of those approaches," VonHolle said. "I believe there is still a win-win opportunity here for all concerned."

Prior to Monday's request for dismissal, Hardin had stated he would never stop fighting for the right to mine his property. He had previously testified that the mining operation was intended to be a multi-generational family business. He has estimated the aggregate's value between $12 million and $21 million.

The acreage was previously listed on an Internet sale site for $5 million to $8 million, but Hardin has contended that the land is worthless without the ability to mine because previously excavated mining tunnels have made it unsafe to occupy.

Jan Wilson, a Eugene attorney hired by a coalition of Opp Mine neighbors called "Citizens for a Livable Jacksonville," praised the Jackson County Planning Department for providing the county Planning Commission with the data necessary to derail the zone change, including the fact that the mine owners hadn't provided enough core samples to show there could be sufficient quantities of high-quality rock on the property.

Jackson County senior planner

(see correction note below) Stuart Todd's report noted the mining activity could create significant negative environmental, economic and traffic safety issues for the town and nearby neighbors, Wilson said.

VonHolle noted Hardin did not have a Measure 37 claim attached to his re-zone request.

"Just because a neighboring property had a dozen cows decades ago does not give subsequent owners the right to open a slaughterhouse for processing thousands of cattle next door to an established residential community," VonHolle said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect reference to Stuart Todd's title. This version has been corrected.