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Asphalt plant in Talent draws scrutiny

TALENT — Nearby neighbors are unhappy with emissions and noise from an asphalt batch plant, while the plant's owner says he's fixed problems that caused it to violate state standards last year.

Mountain View Paving, along Bear Creek just east of city limits, faces community scrutiny over air quality concerns at the same time it has applied to Jackson County for permits to continue operations. The issues are handled separately by different government agencies.

Mountain View exceeded emissions standards for carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides in tests conducted for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in August.

"We've got it fixed — it was a little plugged up," said Mountain View owner Paul Meyer.

A state official downplayed the emissions violations.

"This is not an uncommon situation," said Wayne Kauzlarich, natural resources specialist with the DEQ's Medford office. "It's a verification issue that the equipment is running appropriately, and if not, that the steps are taken to ensure compliance."

But neighbors say the plant's operation is an ongoing aggravation for them. Lois Schmidt, who lives in Mountain View Estates on the west side of the creek, about 300 yards from the plant, says she, her husband and other residents of the retirement community are bothered by the operation.

"We're right on the creek. The smell and the noise comes right across at us. I'm not sure if it's toxic or not," said Schmidt. "It has grown immensely. They are doing more work and expanding rapidly."

Runoff from truck washing done at the site may be detrimental to the creek, Schmidt says. She said work at the site has increased in the six years she and her husband, John, have lived in the park.

"We don't want to put him out of business," said Schmidt. "We just want to put him somewhere else."

Residents living elsewhere in Talent also complained about the odors during a public comment period before the City Council on Feb. 6.

The council on Feb. 20 approved a letter to be sent to Jackson County detailing its concerns and asking the county to attach conditions to the plant's continued operation. The conditions it seeks include ensuring the operation meets floodplain rules, preventing any expansion of the business, and limiting its hours of operation to between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

If the residents are to have any success in limiting or blocking the plant's operation, it appears it will have to come from the county rather than the state.

The DEQ's Kauzlarich compared the tests for the asphalt plant, known as source tests, to inspections car owners must go through at the DEQ's inspection and maintenance station in Medford.

"If it fails, you can still get to drive it and get it fixed," said Kauzlarich. "It costs you a little time and a little money."

An independent firm conducts the tests of the plant and results are reviewed by the DEQ. Mountain View's latest permit was issued in 2008 and requires it to conduct a source test this year. The company passed its last source test, in 2002.

A retest must be conducted by May. If the plant fails again, the situation would be referred to an agency enforcement officer.

Mountain View passed the opacity criteria, a measurement that judges the visual impact of output from a plant during the test. Standards require less than 20 percent opacity. Mountain View's average opacity during the test was 6 percent.

Kauzlarich said he has been contacted by Talent residents about emissions from the plant.

"I have personally had some of the neighbors in the area talk to us about it," said Kauzlarich. "It's usually in the cold mornings that seem to suppress smells low to the ground before the warming of the air happens."

Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas. Nitrogen oxide has a sweet smell and may be brown. Both gases are considered toxic in high concentrations.

Kauzlarich monitors Mountain View and the four other asphalt plants in Jackson County. The other plants have all passed their most recent emissions tests, he said.

Mountain View Paving has had a permit from DEQ regulating air quality for the plant since 2001. But the operation does not comply with county regulations, and the firm has applied for nonconforming-use permits.

Mountain View has also applied to develop a more permanent facility on the site. The city of Talent contends in its letter that the site should be treated as a grandfathered use, which would not allow for any expansion on the property.

Jackson County must render a decision on the applications by May 24. County staff will issue a ruling on the matter with enough time to allow for a required 12-day appeal period and for a hearings officer to take comments and render a decision by the deadline date, according to county Development Director Kelly Madding.

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