If you asked people living at Mountain View Estates in Talent, Oregon, what’s the liveliest thing happening in their lives these days, most of them would tell you it’s “getting the asphalt plant moved.” 

And what makes that lively is all the learning that’s going on as 165 senior families work together, trying to figure out how to use local, state, and federal government agencies, including the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), to help them defend their health and property rights.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s - when most of us grew up - our public schools required all students to take and pass a class in civics to graduate from high school. And it was in those classes, all across the United States, that we learned the job of government is to ensure citizens' rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a clean, safe environment. To help us keep our air clean. To help us take care of streams and rivers so we could fish them for fun and good eating. To help us create and maintain clean, safe parks where we and our children could play and learn about Nature. Just some basic things like that.

But in the years since we got out of high school - and high schools quit requiring civics to graduate - it seems that the job of government has changed. Pretty dramatically. Now the job of government is to cow-tow to money and when money and people come into conflict, government’s job is mostly to take the side of money. They call it “jobs,” but it’s really about who’s got the most money to spend on making the lives of people who are “elected” smooth sailing for them. 

Flash forward to Spring of 2013, where 165 families made up of people who participated in civics classes as kids are living as seniors in homes they own in an affordable housing community in Mountain View Estates, in Talent, ORegon, right on beautiful Bear Creek. 

I know this because it was my family that developed Mountain View Estates and we have managed the land and cared for the community of people living there since the mid-1980s. My folks developed the park and lived in it until they died and it is a great source of pride to me and my sons that our family has been able to make such a fine quality of life available to people 55 years and older, living in the Rogue Valley.

In 2001, we got a new neighbor. A man who owned a paving company bought some residential land right next door to us and set up what he announced to the valley, using the Medford Mail Tribune, was a "temporary" asphalt plant. The man, Paul Meyer, set up a machine he bought used from a company in Montana on the property where aggregate had been mined for a decade or more and set up Mountain View Paving in Talent.  

Neither my family nor the residents of Mountain View Estates objected, at first, because the businesses’ industrial activity was light. 

But not for long. Year by year, over a 12-year-period, without any permanent land use authority whatsoever, Mountain View Paving grew and expanded and in the last 3-4 years, has grown into a large asphalt manufacturing site, operating 6 days a week, night and day, heavily polluting the air we breathe while also polluting the water and soil of Bear Creek with toxic water runoff. 

These days, up to a dozen double trucks can be backed up 300 yards from our homes, on the only access to the business - an unpaved road running through a Jackson County Public Park, lined up to be filled with aggregate and asphalt and trucked to job sites all over the area. The noise is deafening and the toxic particulate matter in the air, the carbon monoxide, the nitrogen oxide, and the rest of the carcinogenic and nervous-system poisoning air-borne toxins and hydrocarbons fill the air we and our neighbors breathe - as well as any living thing on the Bear Creek Greenway or in Lynn Newbry Park. 

These days, we complain to every governmental agency we can find about how Mountain View Paving’s industrial activity in a residentially zoned area is destroying our lives and our health and our property values on a weekly - and often daily -  basis.

We were told to start with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) but what we have been told is that it’s not that agency’s job to be concerned about our neighborhood’s air quality needs. Their job is to permit industrial business operators that take place within a broad "airshed." The one we live in stretches across the whole Rogue Valley! And they’re proud to say, at the DEQ, that the Valley airshed is now operating well within federal compliance standards for clean air. Our problem with our neighbor, no matter how noxious, is just a “little wheel in a much bigger deal.”

So, the DEQ can’t help us clean up our environment because it’s not their job. They have no land use authority. They just permit operators and, should an operator fail an emissions test (given once in a 5-10 year period), they warn the operator they’re out of compliance and require them to “fix” whatever is causing them to fail the test. If the operator doesn’t “fix” the problem, then the DEQ can fine the business, but they have no authority to take any action to stop the operator’s pollution activity.

We were told today that an asphalt operator can set up an air and water and soil polluting enterprise in Oregon right next to a residential neighborhood. And that that’s happening more and more. They can set up next to a school. Next to a church. Next to a hospital. Next to a convalescent facility. Next to an organic garden. Next to an orchard. Next to a playground or public park. 

Asphalt plants can be set up anywhere the operator can get a local land use authority to allow them to set up. Temporarily. Permanently. It's of no consequence to the DEQ how long the business emits particulate matter and other toxins into the air or where it happens, as long as the “airshed” tests within federal and state guideline. As long as a local land use authority allows an operator to set up a fuel-burner and a rock crusher, the DEQ permits them. That’s the extent of their job. 

In our case, 12 years ago, our local land use authority - the Jackson County Commission - granted Mountain View Paving (MVP) the temporary right to set up an asphalt manufacturing plant right on the Bear Creek wetland in Talent, right on the Bear Creek Greenway, right next to Lynn Newbry Park, right next door to our established residential neighborhood. They didn’t give any permanent authority. But they said it was okay to start making asphalt on the aggregate site.

Since then, one year at a time, the Commission has simply turned a blind eye to the consequences of a man buying a piece of residentially zoned land - land right on the Bear Creek wetlands and floodplain - and squatting there while building a heavily polluting industrial business. It was of no concern to the Commission or the Jackson County staff that the man’s business abused neighboring citizens’ authority to manage a safe, healthy environment to live in. So, one year at a time, the company was granted a “variance” to stay where it was and keep on with its “temporary” business. 

Last year the business failed the DEQ’s emissions testing for its “temporary” plant and then, still in total violation of the DEQ’s standards, applied to Jackson County for permanent noncoforming use of the land. And the Jackson County staff decided to recommend to the Commission that MVP be granted that permanent use of the land for its documented air-polluting, health and safety destroying, neighborhood and property value destroying business activity in Talent.


So, with open hearts, we invite you to join us in a CIVIC PROCESS of APPEAL and PROTEST to demand that our local land use authorities - the Jackson County Commissioners - act in ways that protect the health, safety, and property rights and property values of the human beings who live at this end of the valley and need to breathe clean air in Phoenix, Talent and Ashland.

Please join us on May 6th at 9am at the Jackson County Courthouse for the appeal hearing and exercise your CIVIC RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITY to hold your elected governmental officials personally accountable for protecting the people, plants, animals, Bear Creek, the Rogue River, the Bear Creek Greenway, and Lynn Newbry Park in Talent.

Our shared interests in this matter will be represented both by Rogue Advocates and the City of Talent at this hearing. But citizens have a right to give their input to the process and we hope you will join us and say what you have to say about how you want government to act in the interests of PEOPLE not MONEY. 

And, by all means, if you're someone with any extra time or money on your hands and you’re looking for a good place to invest it, you couldn’t find a better friend for the people and living things of this Valley than Rogue Advocates.

Steve Rouse and Rogue Advocates' new Executive Director, Melissa Matthewson, deserve all the thanks and support we can give them for standing up to local government, organizing civic activity in this arena, and demanding that land use authorities take action that supports LIFE in the valley, not cheap. polluting industrial activity in residentially zoned, fragile wetland areas!

Here's a link to the RA website and their report on the action they're taking to make this appeal for all the people of the Rogue Valley:*GOVERNMENT 

I hope you will take time to join us at the Jackson County Courthouse on May 6th at 9am and get a real-life civics lesson for yourself. 

We only get the democracy we are willing to participate in, friends. 

If you live anywhere near the south end of the Rogue Valley, and you care about clean air and water, now would be an excellent time to participate. 

Jackson County Courthouse, Monday, May 6, 2013: 9:00am
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