Quarry dreams quashed

Legal battle over Oakridge butte settled

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Save TV Butte
The protest group, Save TV Butte, won their legislative battle on Jan. 8, halting the development of the Old Hazeldell Quarry gravel mine on the outskirts of Oakridge.

The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals halted the development of the Old Hazeldell Quarry gravel mine on the outskirts of Oakridge on Jan. 8, petitioners with the group Save TV Butte celebrated their victory.

TV Butte has important environmental and cultural significance, especially for local Native American tribes. Since April 2016, a group of Oakridge residents have opposed the Old Hazeldell gravel quarry proposal. Through protests and boycotts of the funder, King Estate Winery, the activists won the battle.

“We wrote articles and letters to the Lane Planning department and Lane County Board of Commissioners,” petitioner Kathy Pokorny explained. “We always had four or five people that were willing to speak about our concerns at the public hearings.”

Keegan Caughlin / Save TV Butte
TV Butte is located on the outskirts of Oakridge. The water tank (center) is the site of the former Pope and Talbot Mill, located in the Oakridge Industrial Park.

The 21-day period for either side of the case to appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals and for the Old Hazeldell gravel quarry to correct environmental violations of the Oregon Land Use laws is now over. In order to continue production, the gravel quarry would have had to reduce the size of the extraction site, the emission of harmful particulate matter and contaminated runoff water, according to Dexter resident Kevin Mathews.

According to an April 2016 Register-Guard article, 30 to 40 jobs could have been created had the gravel mine reached full production.

“We’ve had negative responses from a couple of Oakridge residents because they thought it would create jobs,” Pokorny said. “The people who are filing for the mine are not gravel people and will either lease or sell to a gravel operation.”

On their website, the Oregon Mining Association, a mining promotion organization, made a statement in regards to the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries report on mineral resources, “Oregon has the potential to be an outstanding mining state, and the resources are located in the parts of the state that desperately need the family-wage jobs and taxes that the industry provides. This report should serve as a wake-up call for every legislator who cares about helping struggling areas in rural Oregon. The jobs and potential are there – let the industry get to work!”

Even with persistent pressure from the mining economy, Oregon government officials have gone to great lengths to pass laws and regulations to protect the environment, including permanent restrictions on motorized suction dredge mining to prevent harm to fish habitats, according to a Statesman Journal Article.

Although the opposers put a stop to the Oakridge gravel mine, there are currently 6,728 active mining claims in Oregon. With the recent change in environmental safety regulations for mining operations across the nation under the Trump administration, legacy mining communities in Oregon are attempting to make a comeback.

Whether the battle is in Lane County or in another region of Oregon, tensions are tight between environmental activist groups working to preserve public land and renovated mining companies hoping to get a share of Oregon’s natural resources.