The Observer recently published an article about a huge proposed quarry site immediately adjacent to Interstate 84, just east of Perry. The developer proposes to open 640+ acres to surface mining (250 acres in phase I); put in 3 tiered railroad spurs off the Union Pacific mainline, and have a crushing plant and huge material piles overlooking the Interstate and the river. The developer has submitted a proposal for zoning change to County Planning; it is available for review at the county Planning office, where they also have a copy of the preliminary planner's response.
This will be a high impact project that has been flying under the radar; I first heard about it via planning sessions for a possible Hilgard to Riverside bike path. It will have a huge visual impact on this narrow section of the Grande Ronde Gorge, the gateway into the City of La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley. Noise and dust will most definitely impact Perry Swimming Hole and Hilgard State Park, both prime local recreational retreats. While the proposal states that siltation in the river will be prevented, I see no evidence of soils or geological evaluation of the project, including potential issues of upslope instability.
Only if there is significant public input against this project will it be stopped. We need letters to the County Planning Commission, we need faces at the meeting and at subsequent County Commissioner's meetings, and we need the City of La Grande to weigh in against the project. The upcoming Union County Planning Commission Meeting is on Monday Aug 27, 7:00 PM, Chaplin Conference Room in the County offices at 1001 4th St.
The heavily trafficked I-84 corridor between Pendleton and La Grande passes through outstanding natural and cultural resources, including three state parks (Hilgard, Emigrant Springs and Oregon Trail); two large, popular highway rest areas; and tribal, public and private lands. After crossing the flat wheat country west of Pendleton, the forests and grades of the Blue Mountains offer travelers welcome relief and prepare them for the enchantments of the Grande Ronde Valley and the high desert beyond. Here you find multiple points of access to camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing, ORV uses, woodcutting, berry and mushroom picking. The Interstate also retraces the historic Oregon trail; the area around Five Points Creek is a critical part of this history. The Oregon trail is tightly wound into the community’s backstory, and is referenced repeatedly in local parks, buildings and landmarks.
The proposed surface mine/quarry site immediately above the Interstate at Robb’s Hill Road will significantly degrade the experience of the I-84 corridor to travelers and recreators. It will punctuate the crossing of the Blues with a huge industrial eyesore. It is a completely inappropriate site for resource extraction, and the rezoning land use permitting should be denied.
There are many reasons beyond damaging the viewscape for not allowing this project to move forward. The project plan as presented in its first drafts is completely inadequate, and fails to address impacts to multiple Goal 5 resources--in fact, the plan only mentions Goal 5 once, and dismissively at that. Here I will address only a few of these impacts, each of them significant enough to warrant stopping the project:
Pollution: The proposal presents itself as actually reducing pollution via sole rail transport as opposed to truck transport. This is a specious argument. The quarry would be a potential water polluter, and a major light, noise, particulate and fume producer; some of these sources would not be mitigatable.
The proposal looks at pollution only at the site scale. This is inadequate. Open gravel cars will produce their own particulate as they move away from the site (in particular through the City of La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley). The diesel engines moving the trains will also produce pollution remote from the site. The trains are an important source of low and medium frequency noise pollution, and will especially impact the City of La Grande. The potential for water pollution received no specific plans, only assurances the DEQ requirements will be met. This is insufficient to proceed through a land use rezoning process.
Cultural and heritage values: The site is immediately adjacent to important Native American/Tribal historical heritage sites. The Grande Ronde River itself as it flows past the site is a critical part of a Native American way of life that reaches back thousands of years. The historic Oregon trail works its way down from the hills to the valley just west of the proposed site. Any appreciation of this location will inevitably be degraded by the siting of this project. The proposal dismisses cultural resource disruption as non-existant, with no factual basis. The Tribes have been contacted and have expressed concern about the potential cultural and fisheries impact of the project.
Recreation values: By its siting and intrusive nature, the proposed surface mine/quarry will degrade recreational experiences, both locally and remotely. Beginning closest to the site, the public enjoys the famous Perry swimming hole during the summer months. This is not an insignificant issue. The river provides a safe, no-cost resource to hundreds, if not thousands, of local residents during the summer months. Noise, light, odor and particulate pollution will all impinge on resource utilization. Hilgard State Park is also very close to the project’s west boundary, and proximity to an industrial site will also degrade the recreational experience there.
La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley depend upon natural beauty to drive economically significant tourism. Transiting a project of this size and ugliness immediately before entering the City will prevent many travelers from stopping, enjoying, and exploring - essentially souring them on the idea of enjoying our home as a place of stunning natural beauty.
Economic values: The project will create short term jobs and benefits as it is being built out, although there are no assurances that local labor or contractors will be used. Service, maintenance and production will produce jobs, but whether the jobs balance out the downside costs of the project is a value judgement. I would venture that most local residents would say “no.”
Wildlife values: The proposal presents a conservation easement with the Mule Deer Foundation and ODFW as a mitigation. This is a specious argument. The easement is a purely paper product at this point, and will not change the use or nature of the parcel it encompasses. ODFW recommends delaying action until the specifics of the easement are sorted out.
If the proposal is approved by Union County planning for zoning change consideration, it will arrive before a “lame duck” County Commission with only a few short months before two of three commission seats change hands in January. This will leave a new commission struggling to deal with the actions of its predecessors. The project should not be heard until the new Commission is seated, if it deserves to be heard at all.
Just because a resource is identified does not mean it should be extracted. Given the inadequacy of the proposals to date and the undeniably unappealing nature of this project, the Planning Commission should turn it down a priori, and the County Commission should deny a zoning change.
If you are interested in this issue, please contact David Moyal, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-566-0279. He will be out of town (floating the Snake!) from Aug 16 - 22, but leave messages!