Free the Geologists

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

The war over Eugene Sand & Gravel's application for a gravel pit near River Road can't end happily for everyone, but one of the skirmishes is headed toward a satisfactory resolution. The state House of Representatives has approved a bill that frees geologists to testify as citizens at public hearings - a victory for the free exchange of informed opinions.

The skirmish began when Mark Reed, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Oregon, became a determined critic of Eugene Sand's application. Reed lives about a mile from the gravel pit's proposed site. That gave him a personal motive for opposition, but it was his academic expertise that made his opposition effective. Reed faulted the company's application on various grounds - arguing, for instance, that the gravel strata at the site aren't thick enough to meet state standards.

Eugene Sand had experts of its own who made assertions to the contrary, but the company felt the terms of debate were tilted in Reed's favor. The state-licensed geologists employed by Eugene Sand were subject to discipline by the state Board of Geologist Examiners if their work proved deficient. Reed, who does not hold a state license, was not similarly constrained. He needed to be mindful of his academic reputation, but if he shaded the facts to suit his purposes no one could take away his livelihood by revoking his license.

Eugene Sand complained to the state board, claiming that Reed was engaged in the unlicensed public practice of geology. The Board of Geologist Examiners, reviewing its statutes, concluded that Eugene Sand might have a point. The state attorney general's office, sensing that a state agency might be about to step on a free-speech landmine, urged the board to back off. …