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Quarry quandary

Prescott Park's recent expansion and a neighboring gravel quarry's plans to more than double the size of its operation have breathed new life into a decades-old land use conflict.

On May 6, as park users and city officials made their way up the hill to celebrate six miles of new park trails, Chanel Palmer showed an 8-by-10 photo of a recent truck crash and distributed fliers that said, "Dump Trucks should not be driving through a City Park!"

Palmer, whose east Medford home borders the 1,700-acre park, said she's opposed to Roxy Ann Rock's expansion from 12 acres to 30 acres because she believes that increasing the truck traffic when park user traffic is also on the rise is a dangerous combination.

"It's not that anyone hates the trucks," Palmer said. "It's a matter that the city is using everything they can to increase the use of the parks, and it's working."

Palmer showed a crash photo taken about 5:30 p.m. April 28, in which a gravel truck tipped over a steep embankment and fell on its side. She said it illustrates the inherent danger of mixing the two uses on the same road.

Burl Brim, whose excavation company has operated the quarry owned by developers Mike Mahar and Randy Jones since 2004, said that the most recent crash was caused by a driver who drove too close to the edge of the road. Brim said that such accidents are preventable, but added it "happens all over the country."

Brim was more concerned about an Aug. 25 crash in which a truck carrying 53,000 pounds of gravel tipped over and spilled onto Hillcrest Road, taking out the Roxy Ann Road stop sign and temporarily closing both lanes of the road while crews swept its payload. 

At the time of the crash, the driver said that his brakes and transmission failed, forcing him to steer into a field. 

"It's a real hazard, that is the truth," Brim said. "That can happen anywhere."

As a regular park user and young father, Nate Johnson of Medford said he's "definitely discouraged" to walk his infant son in a stroller alongside the truck traffic.

“I don’t want to discourage business, but at the same time it would be cool if they could exist in a way that they’re not bothering each other,” Johnson said.

Brim said his staff considered the idea of a separate roadway about a decade ago, but determined that there's not quite enough land to create such a route without using a prohibitive amount of parkland.

"We don't think it's a viable option," Brim said.

Jeff Sander, who lives near Prescott Park and uses the park for mountain biking and hiking several times a week, is similarly concerned about the increase in truck traffic he's seen since he bought his home on Hillcrest Road near the park in 2010.

Prior to buying his home, Sander said he tried to research the quarry, but heard from city and county staff that the gravel pit was nearly exhausted and traffic was limited.

Co-owner Jones expressed such a view in 2004, Mail Tribune archives show.

"Because he and Mahar are developing the land at the lower end of Roxy Ann Road, Jones said they'd like to buy the rock pit and ultimately close it down so there aren't daily gravel truck trips through their new subdivision," an April 2004 story says.

Brim said that the plummet in demand during the recession extended the quarry's life. Even without an expansion, Brim estimates the quarry has about a decade left.

"It all depends on the market," Brim said. "With the expansion it will be longer."

The quarry, operational since 1956, brings in truckers from various companies through the park roadways, allowed through an agreement with the city most recently signed in October 2013. Trucks are allowed to use the park road to access the quarry in exchange for roughly $10,000 worth of labor on the park each year.

Similar agreements between the mine operator and the city date back to 1985, archives show, though terms have changed over the years. A 1996 article shows that truck traffic was limited to 24 trips a day in a previous agreement, but the restriction has been lifted since 2004.

Longtime gravel truck opponent Larry Butts, who's lived near the park since 1987, said he's had cameras count as many as 60 trucks up and down the hill in a day. Butts said he'd like to see limitations on traffic again.

"All we're asking for is reasonable restrictions," Butts said.

“Larry Butts has been unhappy with rock pits since the day I took it over,” Brim said. “We try to do a real good job.”

Brim said that as the agreement holder, he ensures drivers adhere to road-use terms, such as maintaining a 25 mph speed limit and using the roadways only between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Drivers who don't comply risk losing their relationship with the quarry.

"It's my job to quell the complaints," Brim said.

Issues between neighbors, park users and the trucks span decades. In March 1996, the city terminated an agreement with a previous mine operator, Virgil Anderson, because of speed complaints. Wes Norton took it over by May 1996 before selling to Mahar and Jones and putting Brim in charge of operating the quarry in 2004.

Brim said that his company and previous gravel pit operators have played an important role in making the park the destination it is today. Each year, they provide the labor to reduce brush and enhance drainage and road maintenance, including adding some 2,000 tons of rock to the roads each year.

"The park is what it is today because the rock pit is there," Brim said. "We've had a good public-private partnership."

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.


A truck that drove too close to the edge on Roxy Ann Road rests on its side April 28. [Submitted by Chanel Palmer]
John McLeod of Ukiah, California, and Barbara Mack of Medford step out of the way of a gravel truck Thursday while hiking at Prescott Park. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]