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Proposed addition to existing aggregate mine raises concerns about impact to air, water quality in the area

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Public debates mobile asphalt plant proposal.

A public hearing on a proposed addition of a mobile asphalt plant on an existing aggregate site on Paulina Highway near Prineville drew nearly 50 people Wednesday night.

After taking about two-and-a-half hours of testimony from more than a dozen people, the Crook County Planning Commission chose not to take any action on a requested modification of a conditional use permit on the site. The matter will instead be discussed further at a future meeting tentatively scheduled for Dec. 19. In the meantime, commissioners want to conduct more research regarding a variety of concerns raised by opponents of the mobile asphalt plant addition.

Applicant Clint Woodward has requested the conditional use permit modification in hopes of adding a mobile asphalt plant – previously operated at Juniper Rock Products at the base of Juniper Canyon, about six miles northwest of the proposed site. In addition, Woodward wants to use the site to recycle asphalt.

Crook County Planning Director Ann Beier kicked off the session, summarizing a staff report on the proposal. She explained that the site in question was approved for mining activities by the county planning commission back in 1995 and is also approved for an asphalt plant on the property as part of the approval. She added that while asphalt recycling is not listed as an allowable activity, it is not an explicitly prohibited use either.

Beier went on to note that Woodward intends to continue mining rock from the site and consequently would want to blast at the site once or twice a year. Blasting is allowed under the approved aggregate mining approval, and per county policy, Beier said that the planning department would notify neighboring residents prior to blasting.

Testimony was first taken by proponents of the mobile asphalt plant addition, a few of whom live within a mile or so of the site. They said that they support the site as long as it meets all of the air and water quality guidelines required by the Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Geology and other agencies.

Concrete business owner Joe Floyd in his support of the proposal said that asphalt recycling is necessary locally, a point that was later backed up by City Street Supervisor Scott Smith. He noted that partial use of recycled asphalt has become a requirement for public paving jobs, one that has the added benefit of reducing the cost of asphalt.

Opponents of the permit modification, several of which live within a mile of the site, expressed concerns about air and water pollution as well as increased noise and impact to various farming operations. Speaking for nearly 30 minutes on behalf of herself and three other opponents of the proposal, Kristy Cooper noted that the emissions from an asphalt plant would ruin the organic crops she relies on for income. In addition, she cited multiple studies regarding air and water pollution from asphalt production that reportedly cause multiple health problems from cardiovascular complications to cancer.

She went on to say that the plant would lower hers and other neighbors' property values.

Cooper went on to contend that Woodward's application was incomplete because it lacked specific information about how air and water pollution would be addressed as well as details of the asphalt plant operation.

Other opponents included a neighbor who raises bee colonies, a lavender and vegetable farmer, and an industrial hemp farmer. All of them expressed concerns that the airborne emissions from the plant would harm or destroy their crops and inflict financial harm.

Given a chance for rebuttal, Woodward addressed water pollution concerns, stating that wells are far enough away from the site that the drinking water of neighboring residents should not be adversely impacted. He added that no water is used during the asphalt production process, and minimal water is used to knock down dust from the rock mining process.

Regarding air pollution concerns, Woodward pointed out that no problems arose when the mobile asphalt plant was located at Juniper Rock Products, and he went on to say that vegetation and residents live in close proximity to much larger asphalt producers in Central Oregon, such as Knife River, and no adverse problems have been reported.

Upon conclusion of the public hearing, planning commissioners expressed a desire to conduct research on how the asphalt plant would affect the local groundwater table as well as air quality. In doing so, they hoped to address the concerns raised during public testimony and enter future deliberations armed with more information.

According to Beier, the conditional use permit approval is only part of the overall approval process facing Woodward before the plant can become operational. He will be expected to obtain permits from the DEQ, Department of Geology and potentially other agencies, which Beier said will more specifically address environmental impacts.

The next planning commission meeting, currently scheduled for Dec. 19, will not include another opportunity for public testimony; however, the commission intends to discuss the permit modification further and ultimately reach a decision on the matter.

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