Increased risk of fire danger and increased site activity have led a hearings officer to deny a land-use permit for Mountain View Paving’s asphalt plant operation as a grandfathered, non-conforming use.
Jackson County Hearings Officer Donald Rubenstein, in a ruling released Friday, determined that the plant cannot be approved as a lawful alteration to a previous concrete batch plant. Rogue Advocates had challenged a county Development Services ruling in March that gave the operation tentative approval.
“I’m pretty happy about the latest ruling. I think it is a very solid decision and well thought out,” said Steve Rouse, president of Rogue Advocates. “I think the hearings officer wanted to avoid any questions of ambiguity that may have been present in the earlier decisions he wrote. He was very methodical and very clear.”
County officials have advised plant owner Paul Meyer that he is operating without land-use authority and could be subject to a $10,000 fine and hearing.
“What we have done is issued a warning to Mr. Meyer stating that if he continues to operate for the next 50 days, we will cite him and hold a hearing shortly thereafter,” said Development Services Director Kelly Madding.
A fine of $200 for every day of operation could be assessed, said Madding, but such action would be staff-intensive. Instead, the department would cite him for the $10,000. Madding says she doesn’t have the authority to shut down the operation.
Since 2011, Rogue Advocates, nearby residents and others have challenged the legality of Mountain View Paving’s asphalt batch plant, which is located between Interstate 5 and Bear Creek just south of Exit 21. Talent residents have complained about operation hours and noise and odors coming from the site.
Plant issues have been before Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals three times, been submitted to courts and the subject of several Development Services decisions. LUBA ruled on March 6 that the plant is not a grandfathered use, but Mountain View Paving already had applied in January for approval. The latest ruling could be appealed again to LUBA.
“The talk of the neighborhood is that it is about time that the county woke up to the hazard he is causing, not only to us people but also to the environment,” said Lois Schmidt, who lives in the Mountain View Estates retirement community across the creek from the plant. Work starts every day at 7 o’clock, said Schmidt.
Meyer established the asphalt plant in 2001, changing usage at the site from the 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.
Rouse said his organization anticipated that the risk of fire might be a deciding issue in the matter.
As a year-round operation, the plant is used at a greater intensity with a higher level of employment than the concrete plant, Rubenstein also ruled.
In early March, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality ordered the plant to cease operation as it did not have local land-use authority. But the department rescinded that order after the county’s later approval. Department officials are now considering the next step.
“We will have a meeting with the county and the (Oregon) Department of Justice and decide what the next steps should be,” said Claudia Davis, DEQ western region air quality manager. “We will be proceeding in an expeditious manner after we have done our due diligence.”
Mountain View Paving attorney Dan O’Connor declined to comment.
Meyer was cited and then fined $600 in December 2014 for lack of land-use approval, lack of a floodplain plan and no permits for building and electrical work.
Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.