Residents claim minor permit modifications would cause major problems

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Though composting is off the table, Stafford residents still have major concerns about how the S&H property on Borland Road will be used. What started as a battle over composting at the S&H Logging site in Stafford has evolved into a debate about semantics, with S&H claiming recent changes in its land use permit to be “minor” while members of the Stafford-Tualatin Citizens Planning Organization view the alterations to be major and in need of further review by Clackamas County.

“This was a very complicated process that the county has allowed to proceed as a minor modification,” Stafford-Tualatin CPO Co-president Tracie Tolbert said. “It took staff 32 pages to describe a minor modification.”

The two parties sparred in an appeal hearing March 6 with the county’s planning and zoning department. The S&H land use permit modifications — which included the elimination of a proposed composting facility and revisions to the company’s mining operations — were officially approved by the county Jan. 30.

S&H’s controversial composting facility — which was originally approved in 2011 — would have operated near Stafford Primary School and Athey Creek Middle School, processing yard debris into compost, which could then be used in products sold at S&H’s retail site located across the street.

Residents continually raised concerns about noise, dust, traffic and health impacts of composting operations, and in June 2013 Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill that prohibited the construction of any compost disposal site within 1,500 feet of a school. That portion of the bill was spearheaded by Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and state Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin.

With composting off the table, S&H altered its plans for the Stafford site, moving mining operations to the center of the property and further away from adjacent roads and homes. S&H spokesperson Will Gehr said the modifications would improve conditions and “lessen the impacts” from S&H’s mining operation, but Stafford residents disagreed, pointing to continued concerns about noise, visual disruption, traffic and surface water runoff.

“Due to what the Stafford-Tualatin CPO sees as county staff’s many oversights in major areas such as surface water, ground water, noise, traffic and berms, we have sent emails stating our major concerns that still have not been addressed,” Tolbert said.

In her testimony during the public hearing, Tolbert said S&H’s permit did not address the potential for erosion and runoff onto roads or other properties in the event of a major rainstorm. Tolbert and other CPO members also expressed concerns about the protective barriers, or “berms,” around the site being lowered from 10 to 6 feet, as well as the potential for increased traffic around the site.

“The change in (berm) height from 10 to 6 feet is unacceptable,” CPO Co-president Sally Quimby said. “I’m 5 feet 5 inches tall. So to see over the berm, all I’ve got to do is go on a step ladder. It seems incredulous to me that a 6-foot berm, when you’re trying to both decrease visual issues and decrease noise issues, was acceptable by the county.”

Gehr countered by noting that the elimination of composting operations diminished the need for noise and sight barriers.

“The composting proposal was essentially what was driving the construction of the berms around the site,” Gehr said. “And that’s because the primary noise generation was going to come from the composting. If I had to estimate, I would say that 80 percent of the noise would be from composting and 20 percent from the mining.”

Gehr added that the berms were originally slated to be constructed using 100,000 cubic yards of grading material from the composting site, which would no longer be available.

“Without the grading from the composting, we don’t have that fill or soil to use for the berms,” Gehr said. “So there’s no compelling reason to find a place for it.”

S&H and the county ultimately agreed to compromise with the 6-foot berms using alternative materials.

In his final rebuttal, Gehr also took issue with the CPO’s claims about erosion and runoff problems.

“We’re not changing the grade of the site, as was the case in the original plan,” Gehr said. “So the allegation that we are going to cause an increase in storm water runoff going to neighbor sites or the roads is not substantiated. There is no evidence that suggests that would happen.”

Moving forward, the record remains open for parties to submit arguments or additional written testimony until 4 p.m. today (Thursday). The record will stay open for responsive arguments only — with no new evidence — until March 20. S&H will then have until March 27 to submit a final argument, with a final ruling from the county due no later than three weeks after that.

For Tolbert and other CPO members, the only satisfactory result would be an outright denial of the permit.

“We strongly contend that the changes are not minor but major in many ways, and impact the Stafford community in significant ways,” Tolbert said. “The only result we feel is just is to overrule the planning director approval and deny the permit.”

“I understand that neighbors have continuining concerns,” Gehr said. “It’s reasonable — it represents change, and change is sometimes the least preferred option.

“We hope to one day be seen as a collaborator rather than an adversary.”

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