County approves flood plain permit

The last time I wrote an update about Grand Island’s efforts to stop a quarry, we were awaiting our appeal of Baker Rock’s flood plain permit before the Yamhill County Commissioners.

Members of Protect Grand Island Farms (PGIF) and their expert witnesses testified in front of the Commissioners on February 9. Testimony was offered regarding the legal requirements of the Yamhill County ordinance, the thoroughness of the hydrology studies in accounting for the Flood Way under encroached conditions, and more.

The Commissioners waited to vote until their March 2 meeting. Although two out of three Commissioners voiced disapproval of the quarry project, all stated that they felt they were legally obligated to approve the permit under the existing ordinance and with the evidence as submitted. They voted unanimously against the appeal and in favor of upholding the permit.

The members of PGIF are now turning their attention back to the complicated ongoing state and federal level permitting processes. According to a letter sent to Baker Rock from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), both NOAA and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have expressed major concerns about the proposed quarry and are asking Baker Rock to revisit their fish channel and reclamation plans. The quarry is far from being a done deal, and PGIF is watching the process closely to make sure that we can provide citizen input to all the involved agencies.

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Active again! Time for an update!

After several quiet years, activity has begun again in the ongoing effort to prevent Baker Rock Industries from converting a 225-acre field of prime farmland into a gravel quarry at the south end of Grand Island.

After large-scale public input and protest, in 2011, the Yamhill County Commissioners voted to approve the zoning change from agriculture to extraction. Since then, Baker Rock has been working on their permit process with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI).

Protect Grand Island Farms (PGIF), a non-profit composed of island farmers and residents, has continued to follow the permit process during these intervening years even though DOGAMI does not officially invite public comment on this process.

In early fall of this year, Baker Rock applied to Yamhill County for a flood plain permit for their possible future quarry. PGIF members filed a request for a hearing on this permit.

On November 3, PGIF members and many Grand Island residents and friends went before the Planning Commission to oppose the pending flood plain permit. Dozens of people testified, providing arguments that the proposed quarry would not meet the necessary criteria for a flood plain permit and would have negative impacts on surrounding properties.

On December 1, the Planning Commission met again to vote. Every voting member present expressed that they shared PGIF’s concerns about the proposed quarry and flood waters. However, because of the very particular nature of the county statutes, a majority felt that they needed to vote to approve the flood plain permit at this time. One said he did so, “holding his nose.”

PGIF is now contesting this decision, which will take the flood plain permit before the Yamhill County Commissioners in early 2017.

At this time, people who want to support this ongoing effort can help by:

  1. Attending the to-be-scheduled County Commissioner meeting to show support
  2. Making a tax-deductible donation to PGIF to help pay for legal and expert costs. Checks can be made to “Protect Grand Island Farms” and mailed to P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128.

Watch for more updates about the upcoming Commissioner meeting in early 2017!

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County approves quarry in second hearing round

Well, last week was our last chance to stop this pending quarry at the county level, and at the Thursday hearing, the County Commissioners voted 2-to-1 to approve it. Folks here on the island are disappointed and quickly working on the next steps (it ain’t over yet!). You can get more details in this thorough News-Register article.

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Quarry, part 2 around the corner — an update!

The Protect Grand Island Farms board met last week and voted to petition the Oregon Supreme Court about our case. We will have to wait to see their response — whether they will hear it, and then the outcome.

In the meantime, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners will be voting on “part 2” of the original application. If you’ll remember, back in early 2011, they decided to vote on the application in two steps — the first was the question of “significant resource” (i.e. is there enough gravel to warrant meeting the legal requirements?). In that case, they voted yes, two to one, and this is the decision we have been appealing through the Oregon courts (see above).

Now, they will be meeting to vote on the second legal question as they saw it: the potential impact on farmers in the area. This is the primary question that many of us on the island were concerned with and the major content of our testimony at the hearings in 2010.

The Commissioners are scheduled to address this topic at their upcoming May meeting: 10 am, May 17 in room 32 of the courthouse. Technically, the record is “closed” and there will be no opportunity for further input from the public, but it’d be great to “pack the room” with bodies of people in support of Grand Island farmers. We can also write letters to the editor of local newspapers in support of our cause again.

Thank you for your continued interest in this very important work!!!

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Capital Press article

The Capital Press ran an article about the recent Court of Appeals quarry ruling. You can read it here.

 

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Update on Court of Appeals decision

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.

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Quarry issues on OPB Thursday (Oct 20)

Thursday morning, Yamhill County farmer, Sam Sweeney, will be talking about the proposed Grand Island Baker Rock quarry on OPB’s talk radio show, Think Out Loud. The show starts at 9:00 AM but Sam is scheduled to be on at 9:30. A representative from OCAPA, the aggregate lobby group, will be on the show with him. Anyone can call in or contribute via a comment on their site.

Now is our chance to get our views out to a very large audience. Please listen to Sam, if you have something to add please do so. If you want to comment via their site you do need to preregister with Think Out Loud. You can comment before the show, to prime the pump, if you would like. The call in number is 888-665-5TOL (or 665-5865). To preregister to make an online comment or ask an online question go to:

Oregon Public Broadcasting · Think Out Loud

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