The Court of Appeals issued their ruling on our case this week. Here is a press release with the details:
Court Rules on One Part of Battle to Protect Grand Island
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 its 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 parklands along the Willamette River. The company has proposed the ditch as 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 Sweeney 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 that 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 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 be become ponds and habitat – they will, for invasive weeds, and hungry geese and ducks. The end result will be deep stagnant mining pits and our crops will feed the geese and ducks.” To these local residents and thousands of Oregonians who visit and island annually, Grand Island is a special place – the Sauvie’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.