So, what’s the big deal? There are many real issues at stake here beyond simply “Not in My Backyard” type of stuff. Here are the concerns that some farmers on the island have about yet another quarry being approved on Grand Island:
- Traffic on Grand Island roads — The traffic report included with this application only takes into account current traffic use. However, a quarry has already been approved on the north end of the island with similar volumes of truck traffic, thus potentially doubling the new increased truck traffic on island roads and bridge.
- Island bridge performance — There is only one route on and off the island: the narrow bridge on the west side of the island, built many decades ago for use by farming vehicles. There are continued concerns about the long-term bridge performance given the proposed increase in heavy truck traffic from two large operating quarries. Dozens of farm business and residents rely on this bridge for their continued livelihood and farm practices. Significant for people beyond Grand Island — if the bridge fails because of gravel quarry truck traffic, who will pay to fix it? Should the tax paying citizens of Yamhill County have to pay?
- Bridge visibility & safety — The current Grand Island bridge is too narrow to allow two gravel trucks to pass at one time. The application proposes that trucks would visually check for oncoming traffic and only one truck would be on the bridge at a time. However, the curves at the top and bottom of the bridge make it impossible to see oncoming traffic until on is actually driving on the bridge, creating a real potential driving hazard for frequent use by wide gravel trucks.
- Floodwater movement — Given Grand Island’s history of unpredictable and damaging flood waters, there is continued concern that even a minor shift in floodwaters could negatively impact farms or residences on the island. Quarries disturb ground and can lead to significant shifts in water movement. In 1996, 17 quarries in western Oregon were “captured” by rivers, meaning that they (and adjacent properties) became a permanent part of the main channel. Here on Grand Island, farmers are worried that disturbing the ground at the south end of the island (upstream from everyone else) could cause the island to be cut through by the Willamette along what is currently a seasonal waterway, Sutter Creek. This could cause irreparable damage to many farms along Sutter Creek and potentially increase the unpredictability of any future flood events. In such a scenario, who would be liable for the permanent losses to farms and individuals?
- Dust — Several properties adjacent to the proposed site and/or along the truck route produce fresh market fruits and vegetables. Keeping those fruits and vegetables clean is an integral aspect of these farms’ practices, and there are concerns about the potential dust created by the operation itself and the high volume of gravel truck traffic on the road. Also, studies have shown that dust can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of agricultural sprays and also the photosynthetic capacity of leaves (thus reducing yields and impacting plant health).
- Impact on nearby wells — There are many shallow irrigation and residential wells near to the proposed site. Farmers and residents are concerned that the quality and quantity of the ground water could be negatively affected by the mining operation.
- Insufficient studied “impact area” — Once again, given that the site is upstream from the rest of the island, some farmers believe that the studied “Impact Area” in the application is too small to be accurate. The application only considered properties within 1500′ of the proposed site rather than any property downstream or along Sutter Creek.
- Loss of farmland — Since this is the second large quarry proposed on Grand Island, there is a concern among farmers about the continued loss of prime farmland. According to the Yamhill County Comprehensive Plan, section F (Economic Development): “The economy of Yamhill County is largely based on agricultural and forestry related industries” and “Yamhill County will encourage economic development projects which do not conflict with the predominant timber and agricultural character of the county” (emphasis added). Agriculture represents a sustainable, long-term economic base that can provide jobs into the future. Grand Island is uniquely suited to successful agricultural ventures — good soil, good water, close to infrastructure and markets. The island is currently home to dozens of diverse thriving farm businesses, many of whom are constantly evolving and expanding their operations. Expansion of operations is a common and necessary farm practice and requires the continued availability of suitable farmland in close proximity to existing farms. The loss of any farmland on the island represents the loss of future opportunities for farmers today and tomorrow.
- Lack of demonstrated market need for aggregate — Yamhill County Zoning Ordinance 404.90 (MR Zone Change Criteria) part A reads that approval of a zone change shall be based on the following critera: “That a sufficient quality and quantity of mineral resource exists at the proposed site to fulfill a market need” (emphasis added). The application does not make the case for a market need for said resource, especially given that the larger mining site was approved in 2004 but has yet to be developed.