Alliance of wealth, environmentalism is puzzling

I must confess that I am somewhat puzzled when I read in the Daily Tidings about a recently filed lawsuit by Dr. Edward Kerwin, et al, that seeks to close down Ashland Gun Club operations.

The club has been leasing the property for the gun ranges from the city since 1968.The lawsuit alleges that lead shot used by the club is "damaging the environment" in the area. I read many times in the past few years that the gun club was actively working with city staff to resolve any problems associated with their usage of the property, including a commitment to engage in ongoing cleanup of lead from the ranges as part of their current lease agreement with the city.

I have also read in your newspaper that in 2004, Dr. Kerwin, an allergy specialist whose practice is situated in Medford, Grants Pass and Klamath Falls, chose to purchase 56 acres of agricultural land directly above the gun club property. On approximately 30 acres of hillside property directly above the gun ranges, he planted wine grapes.

While his action was consistent with an area zoned exclusively for agricultural use, his construction of a trophy home/castle in excess of 19,000 square feet was not, and I have heard many folks refer to it as a visual blight on the open space scenery viewed by half the residents in east Ashland.

I overheard similar remarks when numerous huge garages and outbuildings appeared there. Not exactly consistent with agricultural activities, some folks have said to me, but I have also heard them remark that "money talks," and Jackson County commissioners approved this huge project as consistent with agricultural use, so who am I to question their wisdom?

I wonder at times, however, if any of them seriously believed that Dr. Kerwin was building a 19,000-square-foot dwelling on the property for his exclusive personal use. I was also tremendously surprised when I read in the minutes of the Jackson County Planning Deprtment's agenda for Feb. 28, 2011, that Dr. Kerwin applied to Jackson County for a special events permit for his property — an application that was in direct conflict with the existing zoning in the area that was exclusively agricultural use. Imagine that! It was almost as much of a shock to me as being told that all neighbors who would have been directly affected by the application, including the gun club, were not at first notified of his intentions.

I was also surprised to read in the Daily Tidings that the doctor was present during recent lease negotiation sessions between the city of Ashland and the gun club, threatening to sue every member of the Ashland City Council who approved a lease extension, in addition to any officers or members of the gun club. I did not realize that his true intentions in these threatened lawsuits were to protect the environment in the area.

Surely, I thought, Dr. Kerwin's great sensitivity and concern for the environment is reflected in the energy footprint of the massive complex of buildings he has constructed. His concern for wildlife in the area is obviously reflected by his actions to fence in over 30 acres of land that was once important deer and wildlife habitat.

I would also surmise that he is seriously concerned with the amount of precious local water resources used to irrigate his grapes. I would also surmise that when he did extensive grading of the hillsides at his site, or applied pesticides and fertilizers to grapes planted on steep slopes, that he did not allow for any drift downward of the soils, fertilizers or pesticides onto the critical wetlands below that are the subject of his current lawsuit.

I understand that the plaintiffs in the above lawsuit have hired an excellent environmental attorney who is also chapter president for the local Sierra Club. As an ardent environmentalist, I am certain that he would be concerned about all the issues outlined above, and might even place them on the club's agenda. Surely a responsible landowner and environmental steward of Dr. Kerwin's caliber would not also have a negative impact on the local environment.

I certainly find this entire affair is puzzling and confusing. This unlikely alliance of wealth and environmentalism certainly merits closer scrutiny.

Dave Gullet of Ashland is a retired public administrator and licensed pest control advisor.

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