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Asphalt saga nears end of the road

After a series of complaints, appeals and reversals stretching back to 2011, the saga of Mountain View Paving appears poised for a resolution — one way or the other. 

The asphalt batch plant on the banks of Bear Creek has drawn concerted opposition from nearby residents, from the city of Talent and from Rogue Advocates, a land-use watchdog group, over noise and fumes emitted by the operation. The plant began as a concrete batch plant decades ago, but has been making asphalt since 2001. Although the plant does not conform to present-day zoning in the area, Mountain View attorneys argued it was "grandfathered in" as a pre-existing use because the concrete plant once operated there.

County hearings officers ruled at various times that the plant could continue operating, but required the operators to remove structures and equipment added since 2003, which the company did. The state Land Use Board of Appeals sent the case back to the county, and a hearings officer ruled in October that Mountain View Paving must submit a new application to determine if it is a lawful, nonconforming use.

Now, the state Department of Environmental Quality has said it will send a letter to the company this week, setting a deadline by which it must obtain land-use approval, move to a new site or cease operations.

The final outcome will be determined by the application process and land-use laws as they exist today, which would seem to make approval of continued operation unlikely. We sympathize both with the neighbors, who want the noise and odors to stop, and with the company's owners, who have been operating the plant for nearly 15 years under the belief that the use was lawful. There are no bad guys in this story, only people trying to protect their living environment and their livelihoods.

The idea that an asphalt plant is essentially similar to a concrete operation seems questionable, given the difference in materials and emissions. It's worth noting, however, that a DEQ inspection in 2013 found the plant was in compliance with air quality regulations. The presence of the plant in the flood plain of Bear Creek is also a concern, but that should be addressed in the land-use application process.

The best outcome would be for the plant to find a new location where it could continue to operate and provide local jobs. We realize that is far easier said than done, but suspect that may be the only way it will be allowed to continue.