Dusty Times Put Gravel Makers in the Pollution Thick of It

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

The hot, dry wind and the busy construction season have led to disagreements between Eugene gravel companies and the Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority over how much dust abatement is enough.

Air pollution enforcers have handed out citations - leading to $1,000 fines - to three of four gravel companies with quarries near the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers on the north side of the city.

Residents of the Cal Young and Santa Clara neighborhoods complain every summer about dust that coats their cars and patio furniture.

Pollution enforcers document the problem with photographs of dust on roads near the gates of mining operations, roiling up behind passing cars and trucks. Other clouds arise from scattered construction sites as graders and gravel trucks do their work.

All of the sand and gravel companies try to stop the dust, as required by air pollution rules.

"It's a problem for all of them, but for some it's worse than for others," LRAPA enforcer Tom Freeman said. "It's a tremendous headache."

Dust gets in your eyes

Actually, from a nationwide perspective, the local sand and gravel companies are lucky. In most years, Mother Nature provides them dust control through the winter months with a steady drizzle - but this year was different.

From last October to April, Oregon got less than half its normal rainfall, so the dust was dried and ready for early flight.

Big construction projects were going gangbusters in the meantime - a new federal courthouse, major freeway reconstruction - and that brought a steady stream of trucks in and out of the quarries.

The busy gravel companies weren't necessarily paying attention to the dust, Freeman said. If they were, they would have gotten out their water trucks and taken up where the rains left off.

"The weather changes and suddenly they get caught unawares," he said.

Inspectors cited Delta Sand & Gravel for raising dust on Jan. 11 and then again on Jan. 13. Egge Sand & Gravel followed on March 30. Wildish Sand & Gravel was dinged on April 19 and May 11.

Egge and Delta are contesting their citations.

Delta officials said they couldn't use water to knock down the dust on the road outside the plant last January because the temperature was too close to freezing and might cause a hazard for motorcycles or cars.

Delta is in negotiation with LRAPA to somehow resolve the issue, Delta risk manager George Staples said. The company is not inclined to accept the fine - even if it were reduced.

"We are not really interested in it because we are very conscious of our reputation in the community for doing things the right way," he said.

"We felt that we had done everything possible under the circumstances that was reasonable and don't feel a citation is justified," he said.

The company said it spent $110,000 last year on watering and sweeping the dust inside and on roads outside the plant.

"Part of the frustration is at what point do we become reasonable in the eyes of LRAPA?" he said. "We're not throwing nickels at this thing. We're serious about the problem."

Egge officials go the furthest in their defense.

They are accusing LRAPA of "selective" and "vindictive" prosecution, according to legal briefs in the air agency records. The company's attorney has asked to review one inspector's personnel records and his field notes from dozens of cases.

Owner Vern Egge said his company may have been blamed for dirt that another company tracked onto Coburg Road. At the time, he was leasing part of his gravel pit to Morse Brothers and to Mainline Paving, which reconstructed Interstate 105 this spring.

He declined specific comment on the case, but voiced displeasure with LRAPA.

"They seem a lot more aggressive in their enforcement activity than they have in the last year or two," he said. …