Appeal of 'minor' modifications denied

by: FILE PHOTO: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Plans for a composting operation at the S&H site were met with protest over concerns about noise, dust, traffic and health impacts.Six weeks after a contentious appeal hearing regarding “minor” modifications made to the S&H surface mining operation in Stafford, a Clackamas County hearings officer ruled that the project could go forward as planned.

What started as a battle over composting at the S&H Logging site evolved into a debate about semantics, with S&H claiming recent changes in its land use permit to be “minor” while members of the Stafford-Tualatin Citizens Planning Organization viewed the alterations to be major and in need of further review by Clackamas County.

County Hearings Officer Kenneth Helm ruled in favor of S&H, writing in his final order that, “While I certainly understand opponents’ objection to noise, odors and traffic associated with the applicant’s property, the fact is that surface mining is a permitted conditional use for subject property, and a conditional use for surface mining was already approved.”

The S&H land use permit modifications — which included the elimination of a proposed composting facility and revisions to the company’s mining operations — were officially approved by the county Jan. 30. An appeal of that approval was filed shortly thereafter Feb. 11.

S&H’s original proposal — approved in 2011 — was to build a composting facility that would have operated near Stafford Primary School and Athey Creek Middle School, processing yard debris into compost, which could then be used in products sold at S&H’s retail site located across the street.

Residents continually raised concerns about noise, dust, traffic and health impacts of composting operations, and in June 2013 Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill that prohibited the construction of any compost disposal site within 1,500 feet of a school. That portion of the bill was spearheaded by Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and state Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin.

With composting off the table, S&H altered its plans for the Stafford site, moving mining operations to the center of the property and further away from adjacent roads and homes. S&H spokesman Will Gehr said the modifications would improve conditions and “lessen the impacts” from S&H’s mining operation, but Stafford residents disagreed, pointing to continued concerns about noise, visual disruption, traffic and surface water runoff.

Helm absorbed all of those concerns during the appeal hearing, but ultimately concluded that S&H had done nothing to warrant revoking its conditional use permit.

“The minor modification application is not a chance for a second bite at the apple for opposing the surface mining operation,” Helm wrote. “While opponents argue that adverse impacts will be increased, the evidence shows that the impacts under the proposed minor modification will be less, likely significantly less, than approved under the original conditional use permit.”

“On all technicalities, he sided with the county and us,” Gehr said. “So it was pretty unequivocal.”

Gehr and S&H are not out of the woods just yet; the Stafford-Tualatin CPO recently filed an appeal of S&H’s conditional use permit extension. An extension was required because two years had passed since the original permit was granted, and the county’s approval of that extension prompted another appeal.

“The CPO has appealed the extension, and I’m not sure on what basis,” Gehr said.

That appeal hearing is set for May 1.

By Patrick Malee


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