MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Opp Mine Excavation Blocked

Published by MAC on 2007-05-24
Source: Mail Tribune

Opp Mine excavation blocked

By Damian Mann, Mail Tribune

24th May 2007

Jackson County commissioners denied a proposal to excavate rock on the 157-acre Opp Mine property surrounded by a rural neighborhood about a mile from Jacksonville.

"There are very substantial questions that have gone unanswered," Commissioner C.W. Smith said Wednesday before about 30 opponents and supports of the historic mine.

Smith and Commissioner Dave Gilmour voted against rezoning the defunct gold mine from woodland to aggregate resource, while Jack Walker cast his no vote after expressing frustration about following complicated state rules.

"No matter what we do it gets remanded back to us," he said.

Gilmour and Smith said the mine operators, among other things, did not provide a noise study, did not do enough tests to determine how much high-quality rock is available, did not do a groundwater study and did not provide a good transportation analysis, particularly for the intersection of Mary Anne Drive and Jacksonville Highway.

"It's a very poor application, quite honestly, compared to others we've had," said Gilmour.

Walker, balking at the idea of forcing the owners to prove how much high-quality rock is available at the mine, said, "I find it hard for the government to tell the private sector what is profitable."

Smith said he agreed that some of the state rules and regulations are cumbersome, but said it's still up to the commissioners to follow them as best as they can.

"It's our job to make a decision one way or the other," said Smith. "The facts are pretty clear."

County planners determined the Opp Mine owners hadn't provided enough core samples to show there could be sufficient quantities of high-quality rock on the property. The owners estimated the amount of rock available ranges from more than a million cubic yards to 2.3 million cubic yards. They also said an undetermined amount of gold may still be on the property, which was mined at the turn of the 20th century.

"The applicants testified they had drilled a well in the vicinity of the extraction area and think that the rock is several hundred feet deep, but this was not substantiated by documentation," stated a report by county planning staff.

The report also found that there would be substantial noise generated from heavy equipment used in the mining process.

Toxicity of the existing soil from past mining operations was also not clear, the report stated. A hydrologist for the opponents found mercury contamination that could leach into groundwater.

Opp Mine foes, who wore "Stop Opp" stickers, said they don't think this will be the last they'll hear about the mine.

"I wouldn't call it a victory for our side," said Joe Hudgins, who lives near the proposed mining operation. "There will certainly be an appeal."

Medford attorney Bob Robertson, representing Opp Mine owner Frank Hardin, said he wasn't sure whether there would be an appeal. But he said, "The owners will probably file a lawsuit for the unconstitutional taking of this property."

He said the land is now virtually worthless, which he blamed on the county. "The planning staff was totally against us in this," he said.

Hudgins disputed Robertson's claim that what the county did was unconstitutional. "That sounds like utter nonsense to me," he said. "The rest of us obey the law and abide by the Constitution whether we like it or not."

Hudgins said that owners have proposed excavating rock, but he fears that they actually want to extract gold from the property. "It's classic bait and switch," he said. "I wonder how sincere their application was in the first place."

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