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Pumice mine backers, foes square off

More than 125 residents in the Prospect, Shady Cove and Trail area have signed a petition against a proposed pumice sand mine that they say will create a safety risk plus unwanted noise, traffic and dust.

Prospect resident Cynthia Gibson presented the signatures during a Jackson County land-use hearing in Medford on Monday.

Mine backer Matt Ropp says the sand can be combined with compost to create a beneficial soil amendment for clay-heavy, depleted farm land. He said he's also given the sand to schools in Central Point for use on their baseball and softball fields. 

Jackson County Hearings Officer Rick Whitlock won't make a decision about the mine's future for more than a month, but he heard competing views about the operation during the hearing.

Limited quantities of pumice sand are already being removed from part of the 120-acre parcel located off Gingko Road about one-quarter mile from Highway 62. Ropp proposes mining up to 23.5 acres of the land.

"As a mining process, it's about as low-impact as it gets," he said. "Imagine playing in a sandbox."

The parcel was originally purchased to serve as a family cabin site. On another part of the land, Ropp says he has already had good results planting vegetation that serves as forage for elk, including cows and their calves.

"I feel we've created more high-value habitat than was there," he said, showing photographs of elk visiting the site he captured with trail cameras.

Ropp said the pumice mine could help offset the costs of further improvements to the property. He said the mine could play out if further exploration reveals rock, or it could continue so far into the future his own kids could operate it.

Ropp said he would accept a restriction of 12 truckloads of pumice sand per day leaving the site.

Trees along Highway 62 would screen the mine from people passing by on the road. The U.S. Forest Service manages forest land there as a scenic corridor, Ropp said.

Neighbor Richard Martucci has appealed the project.

Dan O'Connor, who is representing Martucci, said his client is in his 80s and very anxious about the project.

Trucks carrying the pumice sand already cause noise, make Martucci's house vibrate, and leave behind a coating of dust on his vehicle. Airborne particles would create the biggest off-site impact, and there is no over-riding public interest in allowing the mine, O'Connor said.

With its noise, dust and truck traffic, O'Connor said the mine isn't compatible with tourist activities in the area, including camping.

"This is a noted, primary tourist destination site for Jackson County," he said.

O'Connor said he checked with Ropp's competitors and found the biggest market for the sand and compost soil mixture would be marijuana growers.

"It's for the marijuana industry for soil enhancement," O'Connor said.

Former Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor testified in support of the mining operation. He said the philosophy that tourism can replace mining and logging has destroyed many small towns in the county. He said the pumice sand mine is good for the local economy.

While others might be concerned when they see a truck hauling material travel by, Rachor said, "I look at it and I say, 'There's a man with a job.' "

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.