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Pot growers create 'barren wasteland' in vernal pool and Griffin Creek

Pot growers have ripped out riparian areas near streams, destroyed a vernal pool and violated other county and state rules.

Two of the 17 complaints received by the county this year — on Griffin Creek and a fairy shrimp habitat on Dry Creek Road — represent the most extreme cases seen by county officials so far.

Griffin Creek’s course was altered and vegetation was removed to make way for a marijuana garden at 6659 Griffin Creek Road in rural Medford, county code enforcement officials and the Oregon State Police discovered.

“He tore all the trees down,” said neighbor Robin Davis. “It’s so sad.”

Davis, 59, said she has nothing against anyone who grows or smokes pot and said the property owner appears to be “a nice guy who minds his own business.”

She said she noticed the trees being removed about a month ago, and she said it took about a week to clear the vegetation.

The pot garden is surrounded by tarps that make it difficult for passersby to see it from the road. The tips of marijuana plants can be seen from certain vantage points.

Code enforcement officers discovered a vernal pool on a property behind 877 Dry Creek Road had been dug out and the dirt was used to create a berm, on top of which was built a fence without a permit. 

“This is now a barren wasteland,” said Kelly Madding, director of Jackson County Development Services. 

She said the county and Oregon State Police are investigating the Griffin Creek case. The owners of the Griffin Creek and Dry Creek properties have been notified they might be in violation of county and state rules, but no citations have been issued yet, Madding said. 

In Jackson County, the setback required from a creek for any building activity is 50 feet, and 75 feet for the Rogue River.

Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for the Department of State Lands, said a representative will investigate the vernal pool issue later this week.

Griffin Creek is considered an essential salmon habitat and any work in the stream would require a permit from DSL. Curtis said her agency is waiting to hear the results of an investigation by OSP.

Lt. David Gifford, who is with the OSP's Fish and Wildlife Division, said OSP is still looking into the Griffin Creek case, which could result in a Class A misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to $6,250 and a year in jail.

"I've never seen that kind of fine imposed," Gifford said.

After a criminal case is resolved, the Oregon Department of State Lands typically pursues a civil case to help develop a mitigation plan to help restore the damage, Gifford said.

He said he hasn't heard of other cases like this in southwest Oregon, but there have been larger cartel grows in northeast Oregon that have been uncovered. The environmental issues with these larger grows have involved the use of fertilizers and pesticides that wash into nearby streams.

"For us, that has been a bigger concern than riparian damage," he said.

Code enforcement officers are responding to complaints from neighbors throughout the county, many of whom object to pot gardens next door.

Madding said her office also is investigating everything from unpermitted greenhouses and structures to grading and riparian area issues. 

So far, four citations have been issued and 13 warnings of potential violations have been sent out. 

Pharm to Table, a marijuana dispensary that recently opened on South Pacific Highway, has received a citation because it didn’t receive appropriate land-use approvals. 

The dispensary has erected a billboard in Medford advertising marijuana for $4 per gram. Pharm to Table was continuing to operate this week.

Madding said the county won’t be accepting applications for proposed marijuana dispensaries until July 27.

Crystal Plotner, compassionate care coordinator for Pharm to Table, said her legal firm is working with the county to resolve the land-use violation.

She said the owners of Pharm to Table had hoped the county would have its rules and regulations in place by May 1.

“There was nothing that said that we couldn’t go ahead,” Plotner said. “We do really want to do everything above board.”

She said Pharm to Table will continue to operate and will be filing for a permit with the county once the application process begins.

Plotner said her dispensary is trying to be responsive to patients who have expressed frustration at the inability to get medicine nearby.

“In no way are we trying to thumb our nose at the county,” she said.

Other issues the county has heard about include faulty wiring, remodeling buildings for indoor grows without a permit and living in a recreational vehicle to tend an outdoor grow.

Some of the issues with unpermitted greenhouses could be resolved by seeking a permit or removing the greenhouse, Madding said.

Madding’s department typically seeks voluntary compliance. However, the county can issue a $600 fine and require a resolution of the damages, which might include riparian rehabilitation. 

If noncompliance continues, a $250 a fine could be levied each day up to $10,000. 

Madding said she has heard the legalizing of marijuana in Oregon has attracted national interest similar to the gold rush.

“It feels as if it’s like the ‘green rush’ right now,” Madding said. “People are coming from everywhere around the country.” 

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at@reporterdm.

Code enforcement officers discovered a vernal pool on a property behind 877 Dry Creek Road had been dug out. Jackson County photo
Griffin Creek's course was altered and vegetation was removed to make way for a marijuana garden at 6659 Griffin Creek Road. Jackson County photo