Opp Mine opponents voice their concerns

Opp Mine opponents voice their concerns

Opponents of the Opp Mine painted a picture of environmental pollution, property destruction and community demise for Jackson County commissioners on Wednesday.

More than 75 people attended the three-hour public hearing. Dozens testified against a requested zoning change that would allow the property owners to initiate a large strip-mining operation near a residential neighborhood about a mile from Jacksonville.

Environmental reports show mercury contamination at the Opp Mine is five times the acceptable level in some areas, testified Dr. Bob Nyamik, a Medford physician. Nyamik told the commissioners digging for aggregate will release “a plume of mercury” which will end up in Jackson Creek.

“I think this is a very real threat to our environment,” Nyamik said. “Any decision to allow more mercury into our watershed is a bad decision.”

Hydrologist Jonathan Williams said in addition to the dangers of mercury and arsenic, the proposed mining operation poses other threats to area water. Blasting and mining could create adverse impacts on neighbors, such as a reduction in ground water and lower yield in wells.

“Fifty-nine residents depend on groundwater within 1,500 feet of the proposed mining site,” said Williams.

Owners Frank Hardin and Bob Robertson have threatened to pursue a $50 million lawsuit against Jackson County unless officials grant them a zoning change from woodland to aggregate resource. The change would allow them to mine between 1.4 million and 1.6 million cubic yards of aggregate ”” and possibly gold ”” from a 30-acre section of the 157-acre property.

Kanaka Flats residents Julie and Wesley Mather derided Robertson for making threats to the community and the city of Jacksonville. In 2000, Robertson sent a letter to Jacksonville and nearby residents threatening to include them in the lawsuit if they testified against the mining project, they said.

“This letter is written to place you on notice that the applicant will treat any interference with the issuance of the Conditional Use Permit by Jackson County as interference with a contractual vested property right of the applicant. Therefore, I trust that there will be no interference by anyone other than the City of Jacksonville,” Robertson wrote.

In 2002, the Oregon State Bar admonished Robertson for poor conduct based on his actions while defending the rights of Opp Mine property owners. Jacksonville and the residents have been dropped from the case pending against Jackson County.

Family members of the owners offered tearful pleas and their attorneys dismissed community concerns at a hearing before the commissioners on Feb. 14. They testified for three hours and the hearing was continued to Wednesday.

Robertson has said the property was purchased with the understanding the zoning could be changed.

Mark Von Holle lives above the Opp Mine. Von Holle on Wednesday said the Opp property was originally purchased by the Hardins for $225,000. It was sold in 1996 for $950,000 to a partner company and is currently listed for $6 million. Its owners alternately state the property is worthless, then use fear and intimidation to blackmail the county into complying with their request with a $50 million lawsuit, Von Holle said.

“What is wrong with this picture?” Von Holle asked. “Who is really trying to get something for nothing?”

Several residents voiced concerns that truck traffic from the proposed mine would jeopardize Jacksonville’s historic status and destroy its ambiance for county residents and tourists.

Jacksonville City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen urged the commissioners to reject the “bad proposal” which was unanimously recommended for denial by the county’s Planning Commission and its staff. The commission staff report culled from more than 2,000 pages of oral and written testimony from residents, technical experts and city officials advised that approving the zoning change could create significant negative environmental, economic and traffic safety issues.

Wyntergreen scoffed at the applicants’ “filibuster performance” at the Feb. 14 meeting, adding much of their testimony rebutted itself.

“It would almost be comical if it weren’t so serious,” said Wyntergreen.

Proponents will give rebuttal testimony at 1:30 p.m. April 18 in the County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford. Commissioners likely won’t make a decision until May.

Source: www.mailtribune.com

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