Mountain View Paving’s asphalt batch plant near Talent must cease operations by 5 p.m. Oct. 31 or face possible fines, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality warned in a letter to the owner.
The letter was sent to owner Paul Meyer Oct. 7 and signed by Wayne Kauzlarich, natural resource specialist with Medford DEQ’s Air Quality Program.
If Mountain View continues to operate past the deadline, it would be referred to the department’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement for a formal order to close down. Civil penalties could then be assessed for each day of violation.
Mountain View Paving no longer has local land-use authority to operate at the site between Interstate 5 and Bear Creek just south of Exit 21 and therefore cannot be issued a DEQ air-quality permit.
Jackson County Hearings Officer Ronald Rubenstein determined Sept. 24 that the plant cannot be approved as a lawful alteration to a previous concrete batch plant. Neighbors and environmental group Rogue Advocates have challenged the right of the firm to operate at the site since 2011.
“It’s about time that someone took some action,” said Chris Hudson, owner of Mountain View Estates, referring to the DEQ warning. “We are very optimistic. We think this is it.”
Residents in the senior-living facility and elsewhere in Talent have complained about noise, hours of operation, odors arising from the plant and its potential to increase damages in the event of a flood.
DEQ issued a Class II warning. Class I is the most serious and Class III is least serious. Amounts of penalties would be determined after DEQ reviews evidence should the firm continue operations.
“We have rules that we follow when we issue the penalties based on the violations,” said Sarah Wheeler, DEQ environmental law specialist. “There are all sorts of factors in the rules.”
Length, magnitude and impact of violations and the type of facility are all considered when assessing penalties, said Wheeler.
Mountain View Paving has until Thursday to appeal Rubenstein’s ruling to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. LUBA had not received an appeal as of Monday.
A LUBA appeal of the decision would not affect DEQ’s course of action, said Claudia Davis, western region air quality manager.
In late January, DEQ issued a similar warning, but rescinded it because the firm had applied for permits to operate on the site, a process that led to Rubenstein’s ruling.
Mountain View Paving may run the plant at another location provided it obtains land-use approval. A relocation notice form was included with the letter should the firm opt to consider another site.
Mountain View Paving attorney Dan O’Connor did not return a call seeking comment on the warning letter and whether the firm plans to appeal.
Meyer established the asphalt plant in 2001, changing usage at the site from a concrete operation. Under county and state rules, such operations are allowed to continue based on prior use, provided there is not a greater impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
Rubenstein ruled that the current operation cannot be approved as a lawful alteration of the concrete plant because of the threat of fire and explosion in the asphalt batching process, which is a new risk with greater adverse impact.
Rubenstein also ruled that as a year-round operation, the plant is used at a greater intensity with more employees than the concrete plant.
Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.