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Complaint filed over Applegate Christian amphitheater

RUCH ' A land-use watchdog group has filed a complaint with the county contending the Applegate Christian Fellowship wasn't authorized to build its main amphitheater in a flood plain.

At the same time, the 5,000-member church has decided to conduct an in-depth study to resolve ongoing complaints that it has altered Forest Creek's channel and that the changes have made it difficult to determine the location of the flood plain.

Jack Duggan, chairman of the watchdog group, theApplegate Valley Community Forum, said residents continue to object to such a large church in a rural area, particularly when it grew so large by ignoring county land-use regulations.

Everybody has to play by the rules, said Duggan. We've got a huge facility that got huge by not playing by the rules.

The forum brought the complaint to the county after voicing objections with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA), which oversees flood control projects.

This is the latest in a series of disputes that has involved Ruch residents, the county and the church, which has moved a bus barn and bridge to resolve other complaints.

County officials say they worry the church has caused Forest Creek to shrink to a quarter its original width,endangering properties downstream.

In 1997, a flood damaged the church's parking lot, children's play and instruction area, and caused erosion near the main amphitheater, which the church uses for worship during the summer.

Ruch residents are particularly concerned about traffic congestion created by the popular church.

We've got a facility in a rural setting that belongs in an urban growth setting, said Duggan.

In January, County Hearings Officer John Eads ruled the church didn't provide enough information in an applicationto make a decision about flood control boundaries at church grounds on Highway 238.

Fellowship attorney Alan Harper, with Hornecker, Cowling, Hassen and Heysell of Medford, said the church decided not to appeal the decision but to submit a new application that will determine flood plain boundaries and develop any mitigation measures that are needed.

The process was kind of a wash, he said. If what we need is more data, we will go out and get that.

The church wants to resolve the issue rather than protract it through appeals, said Harper.

Fellowship officials also want to make sure flows through the creek are channeled safely and have hired Grants Pass engineer Bill Galli to conduct a detailed flood plain analysis.

This is about making sure that any development near a waterway is safe, said Harper.

County planner Mike Mattson said the church's engineer will attempt to simulate what conditions in Forest Creek were like before changes were made to the channel.

If the changes made to the channel adversely affect the downstream and upstream flows during flood stage, the next question would be how the impacts could be mitigated, said Mattson.

One possibility, he said, is that it could be determined that the amphitheater is improperly located in the flood plain.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail