Talent council to hear public comments on asphalt plant

TALENT — The City Council will consider Wednesday whether it should withdraw its appeals of Jackson County rulings that allow continued operation of an asphalt plant outside city limits on Bear Creek.

The special meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Center at 206 E. Main St. A public forum will allow comments, and the council is almost certain to get some as residents near the plant and environmental groups are unhappy with the plant's location in the floodplain and its operation.

City officials and Mountain View Paving have been in preliminary discussion about arrangements that could include mitigation to reduce the impact of the operation. They've also discussed selling the land to the city for eventual use as open space, with operations continuing for a set period of time.

Jackson County's Development Services in April ruled that the asphalt operation could continue but had to meet conditions, including relocating buildings outside the floodplain.

Rogue Advocates, an environmental group, and the city of Talent appealed the rulings. A county land-use officer is tentatively set to hear those appeals on June 24.

Dropping the appeals could be a prelude to a city deal with the firm.

"We'll have to ask the council," said City Manager Tom Corrigan. "Basically, there are a lot of conditions. There would be some give and take on both parts. Like anything else, you have to look to the appeal and beyond the appeal to the strategies."

Rogue Advocates and representatives from Mountain View Estates, located directly across Bear Creek from the plant, have not participated in the sessions, despite requests from the city that they do so.

"The city of Talent has made a significant effort to try to get representatives from the Rogue Advocates and Mountain View Estates to attend the meetings to discuss proposals by Mountain View Paving," said City Planner Mark Knox.

Rogue Advocates appealed the county ruling, citing a failure to look at historical requirements. Residents and Mountain View Estates owner Chris Hudson are unhappy with hours of operations and noise, dust and fumes that come from the asphalt plant.

Hudson said she would not comment on the issues on the advice of her attorney.

Steve Rouse of Rogue Advocates said his group's attorney had advised them that all discussions should be between attorneys.

Rogue Advocates attorney Courtney Johnson of the Crag Law Center in Portland said she had phone conversations with the city and Mountain View Paving's attorneys and with Knox.

"I'm in discussion with the client about mitigation," said Johnson.

Knox said several scenarios were presented. The 11-acre parcel is within the city's urban growth boundary and is designated in the comprehensive plan to become open space.

"A lot of the discussion has always been about how do we make sure they don't have a business that is a health hazard and how do we get that property to one day comply with the long-term vision of ... having that as open space."

A purchase agreement with Mountain View could preclude another paving company buying the operation and might include additional operating conditions.

Mitigation discussed includes limiting hours of operation, adding screening along both the freeway and Bear Creek, relocating all equipment outside the floodplain area, and having a floodplain hazard containment plan consistent with Jackson County requirements.

Proposals for a silo could reduce dust, emissions and smells, said Knox. The silo would allow trucks to be loaded with just one 12-second dump rather than 10 smaller dumps over 30 minutes. "They are going above and beyond the conditions (imposed by the county rulings)," said Knox.

Mountain View Paving owner Paul Meyer said he's already begun planting trees for screening. "It's a give and take," said Meyer. "I'm willing to spend the money. I'm a good neighbor."

Knox said Meyer initiated the talks looking for a solution, in part to avoid a long, drawn-out legal battle. "Maybe there's an opportunity for the citizens of Talent — not necessarily a short fix," said Knox.

Speakers at the forum will be limited to five minutes or less based on the number of people seeking to testify. The public forum will end promptly at 9 p.m. The agenda then calls for the council to consider a decision on the appeal.

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

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