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Asphalt plant granted extension

TALENT — Mountain View Paving has been granted an extension to operate until March 20 while a land-use decision on the plant's conversion from concrete to asphalt production is considered by Jackson County.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality in February set a March 3 deadline for the plant to cease operation if it did not have land-use approval from the county in place by that date. But the agency granted the extension in light of an imminent ruling.

“It’s likely Jackson County will make a decision on that land-use process by that date,” said Claudia Davis, DEQ western region air quality manager. “It’s reasonable to give the extension because it will be resolved at the local level.”

The action is the latest development in a four-year battle over the right of the plant to operate as a nonconforming, grandfathered use.

An environmental group, Rogue Advocates, has challenged the firm’s location through the land-use process and the courts. Neighbors and others have complained of odors and noise the operation generates. DEQ has not found violations of air-quality standards at the site.

Mountain View Paving submitted an application for alteration for its site use Jan. 29. The site's use was converted in 2001 from concrete to asphalt production, but no permit was sought for the change.

“LUBA has ruled that the batch plant is a legal, nonconforming use,” said Dan O’Connor, attorney for Mountain View Paving. “When it converted in 2001 to asphalt, we needed to do an equipment alteration application.”

Jackson County Development Services staff should issue a tentative decision on the application by March 20, said county Development Services Director Kelly Madding. There will be a 12-day period after the decision is reached during which appeals can be filed. An appeal would go to a Jackson County hearings officer.

In a related matter, Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals on March 6 upheld a second ruling issued by Jackson County Hearings Officer Donald Rubenstein. Rogue Advocates had appealed Rubenstein’s October ruling, which found that the firm needed to submit an application for alteration.

LUBA in its written opinion stated “this appeal is somewhat unusual because the hearing officer denied the intervenors’ (Mountain View Paving) application for verification of the asphalt batch plant, and in so doing appears to have reached the results urged by (Rogue Advocates).”

The appeal asked LUBA to affirm the denial decision, the board wrote.

Rogue Advocates argued that the decision verified the extent and use of the site as a concrete batch plant in 1992. But LUBA said that should be determined in an application for alteration.

Despite the denial, Rogue Advocates President Steve Rouse said he was pleased the ruling asserted that the alteration application needed to determine the extent and scope of 1992 use.

“We will submit some supplemental finding based on some of the discussion in the LUBA decision,” said O’Connor. “The county has everything it needs to make a decision.”

“We’ll see what happens with the local land-use decision from Jackson County, and then decide what the next step will be at that time,” said DEQ’s Davis.

County approval would only clarify the operation as nonconforming, said Rouse, adding that land-use approval and a floodplain permit are still required.

“Even if the county approves the alteration application, I would expect we would continue to argue the point,” said Rouse. “(A hearing) would be the first opportunity to present the adverse impact to the neighborhood.”

Nearby residents have noticed the ongoing activity.

“They have been operating pretty loud. I don’t know what they are doing,” said Lois Schmidt, who resides with her husband, John, in Mountain View Estates just across Bear Creek from the plant. Smoke was visible from the plant, she said when contacted Thursday.

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