Hearing today on rest stop

A 17-year debate over a rest stop on Interstate 5 near Ashland has now shifted to whether the project would have enough water.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will take up the issue at a public hearing on the rest area proposal at 1:30 p.m. today in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave.

A rest area south of Ashland has been in the pipeline since the Oregon Department of Transportation closed a welcome center near the Siskiyou Summit over traffic safety concerns in 1996.

The project laid low for almost two years after the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled the county needed to prove it was meeting statewide planning goals, particularly related to water availability.

Connie Foland, one of the neighbors opposed to the project, said she has vowed to fight the continued efforts of ODOT.

"It's the little farmer against the big bad state," said Foland, who runs a nearby blueberry farm.

The new center would be built at milepost 12.5, just south of Crowson Road and before northbound drivers reach exit 14, the south Ashland interchange.

Currently, the estimate to build the rest area is $11 million, which includes construction, engineering, land acquisition and design.

The commissioners will be debating whether the proposal by Ashland to extend a pipeline to the rest area addresses the water needs of the facility, according to statewide planning goals.

Ashland offered its water to ODOT on the condition it cannot be used for irrigation or for any purposes other than for drinking or for restrooms. ODOT estimates the water usage would be equivalent to 3.7 homes, or 1,400 gallons a day.

As a result, ODOT plans to tap into the irrigation ditch for landscaping.

Foland, who has previously participated in other legal actions to block the project, said she was under the impression that ODOT only had one water source for the project, which is from the city of Ashland.

"The proposal keeps changing," she said.

She said she fears the rest area location will be dangerous, particularly as vehicles merge back onto the freeway while large trucks come down from the summit.

Foland said ODOT has raised issues in her mind about an irrigation canal known as Dunn ditch, which runs through the proposed offramp for the rest area.

She said Dunn ditch provides water to a portion of her land, and she is worried that ODOT will cut off access to the ditch.

"When push comes to shove, we have to protect our property rights," Foland said.

Gary Leaming, a spokesman for ODOT, said the question over the ditch is part of property acquisition negotiations, which he said are confidential.

He said ODOT has resolved concerns about water availability.

"We'd like to get these issues behind us and move on with the project," he said.

In 1996, the Siskiyou Rest Area near milepost 10 was shut down after runaway trucks were involved in crashes.

The proposed rest stop would be on more level ground and outside of the Siskiyou Pass snow zone, making it safer, according to ODOT.

ODOT officials said this was one of the least traveled stretches of road near a rest stop and has a low accident rate.

Trucks will not be allowed to use the center. Truckers have access to restrooms at the Port of Entry to the north on the freeway. The welcome center will be surrounded by chain-link fence topped by barbed wire.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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