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.