Saturday, May 19, 2012

Baker Rock gets 2-1 nod on mining

..News Register..McMinnville,Or..
..Grand Island farmers widely expected to appeal decision.. Ossie Bladine..

    After more than a year of continuation, to await resolution of related legal issues, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners made quick work Thursday of a controversial application from Baker Rock Resources for permission to strip gravel from 175 acres of Grand Island farmland.
    It granted approval on a 2-1 vote, with commissioners Leslie Lewis and Kathy George casting the yes votes and Commissioner Mary Stern sounding the dissent.
    However, no one is naive enough to think the board has delivered the final answer. The approval will most certainly be appealed on up through the courts, possibly for years to come.
    Both sides believed Lewis to be a solid supporter and Stern a solid opponent.
    To the extent either harbored doubts about where George stood, she dashed them straight out of the box.
    " I will be voting in support of this application," she announced.
    The Grand Island resident living closest to the gravel mining site was shaken by the words and fought back tears as George continued.
    " This is a  business that is providing a necessary natural resource product to the community and to the region," she said in support of her decision.
    George went on to say she was disappointed that the needed aggregate had to come from productive farmland and not from a section of the Willamette River known as Lambert Bend, where gravel has built up for decades, threatening farming operations. George joined others in a fight to win approval for mining there, figuring it would be a win-win, but were thwarted by federal environmental regulations.
    In countering George's vote, Stern said she was not satisfied Baker Rock had met it's burden of proof and had doubts it can adequately mitigate conflicts with neighboring agriculture operations.
    As potential conflicts, she cited " the lowering of groundwater resources, increased flooding, traffic impacts, geese predation and the general dust, which would be damaging to crops." She said, " I do not believe that the benefits of allowing the mining out-weigh the impacts on the identified conflicts."
    And the argument will no doubt be carried forward by Protect Grand Island Farms, a group of local farmers and area residents opposed to the mining operation.
    Spokesperson Kris Bledsoe, a Grand Island farmer herself, said she was 99% sure the group would appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, but she would have to wait until the group's board meeting next week to say for sure.
    " Of course we're disappointed, but we're not surprised," Bledsoe said of the 2-1 commissioner split. " In general, I think the decision was the wrong one for the health of the farmers."
    Bledsoe said the group would have to engage in fundraising efforts to cover it's legal fees, but she thinks it is prepared to accept that burden.
    The application will go to the county's counsel for a review of the supporting findings. It is scheduled for final formal approval June 7.
    Meanwhile, the first element in the Goal 5 aggregate process-determining whether a site contains a legally significant resource-is back in play.
    The county commissioners found that the Grand Island deposit was a legally significant resource on a 2-1 vote last spring.
    They held off further proceedings on the Baker rock application, however, while opponents appealed that finding first to LUBA, then to the Oregon Court of Appeals. Only after prevailing at both levels did they take up the application itself.
    Last week, Protect Grand Island Farms appealed the board's initial sufficiency decision on to the Oregon Supreme Court, and it's legal team is confident the court will take the case.
    " We're not going to give up," Bledsoe said.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Court Rules on One Part of Battle to Protect Grand Island

..For Immediate Release..

Farmers Plan to Fight On to Protect Their Family Farms, Water Supplies

 ( Grand Island, Oregon ). In a decision issued April 4th, the Court of Appeals affirmed a determination by Yamhill County that high value farmland proposed to be converted into a large gravel mine contains a significant aggregate resource. Next, the mining corporation must prove that the proposed mine will not negatively impact existing farming operations immediately adjacent to the pits. The County counted two distinct layers of minerals to meet the " thickness "test, which is a prerequisite before high value farmland may be destroyed for commercial mining operations.
  However, because the County bi-furcated it's decision the question remains whether the operation will have a negative impact on farming operations. The mining corporation also faces other hurdles, including the need to seek permission to cut a large ditch across popular State park lands along the Willamette River. The company has proposed the ditch as a way to allow endangered Salmon to escape if they get captured in the pits during seasonal flooding.
  Grand Island is home to a diversity of family farming operations and orchards. The island draws people to a stretch of the Willamette just downstream from the historic Wheatland Ferry and is home to Grand Island State Park. Baker Rock Resources seeks to dig a series of mining pits adjacent to existing orchards and family farms and haul the rock out on the islands narrow roads. The land regularly floods from seasonal rains in the spring and summer and the operation requires the dewatering of the pits which will alter the flow of water for neighboring farms. While Grand Island farmer Sam Sweeny is disappointed in the Court's decision, he is optimistic that other state laws will protect the island from the proposed mine. " The Court's decision means too much valuable farmland along the Willamette could be mined, and underscores that state land use safeguards need to be fixed to protect these valuable resources. Regardless, these mining pits cannot co-exist with our farming operations. The proposal to dewater the pits will negatively impact our water supplies. Without water, we cannot farm."
  Orchardist Ron Schindler took over the farm started by his father and he echoed these concerns: " The mining corporation proposes to mine below the water table, which will significantly impact shallow wells that I rely on to grow cherries. I cannot shoulder the burden of depleted and contaminated water supplies. We farmers have enough to worry about already."
  The mining corporation also proposes to cut a channel across an Oregon State Park, because in floods endangered fish will get captured in the stagnant mining pits. Long time local resident Margaret Scoggan stated " The mining corporation proposes to cut and dig a large ditch across a state park that is owned and enjoyed by all Oregonians. They promise that the pits will become ponds and habitat- they will, for invasive weeds and hungry geese and ducks." To these local residents and thousands of Oregonians who visit the Island annually, Grand Island is a special place, the Suavie's Island of the Willamette. The mining operation would be in operation for three to four decades and would seriously harm the investment that local farmers have made in this land and a place enjoyed by thousands of Oregonians.

                                            BACKGROUND & CONTEXT

  Oregon's Land Use Laws Protect Farms from Mining Using a Two-Part Test

    Oregon land use safeguards protect the highest value farmland from conversion into mining unless the mining corporation can show two things:
    1. The site contains a significant aggregate resource which is mineable.
    2. The mine will not conflict/negatively impact neighboring farming operations.

  The County has only decided one of many issues. The Yamhill County Planning Commission issued a decision recommending the proposal be denied because of conflicts to family farming operations. The County Commissioners have not decided whether the operations conflicts with farming operations-this issue remains to be determined.
  Grand Island has a very long growing season that supports a diversity of family farms. The Island is home to a popular pumpkin patch and a State Park and it draws lots of visitors on bike and by car. The family farms include CSA operations, staple crop farmers and cherry and fruit orchards.
  Local farmers, residents and concerned citizens are working together as Protect Grand Island Farms to protect Grand Island. Hundreds of people turned out to testify and submit comments in opposition. The family farmers and local residents submitted uncontested evidence of how their operations will be impacted.
    For example, the dewatering of the mining pits will affect shallow wells immediately adjacent to the pits. The farmers and the families on Grand Island cannot afford to pay to install new wells if their pumps get clogged.
  The farmers grow specialty vegetables and fruit crops. The crops cannot take heavy washing from the dust of the operation, nor can the farmers afford the increased cost from interference with traffic and road damage from heavy trucks.