Rob Wallace of Del Rio Vineyards is worried that a nearby gravel operation “will destroy wine grapes for this part of the valley.” Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell

Gold Hill gravel business expansion worries neighbors

The owner of Del Rio Vineyards is worried that dust and odors from a gravel operation in Gold Hill may hurt his ability to continue growing award-winning wines.

"This is a very big problem," Rob Wallace said. "It will destroy wine grapes for this part of the valley."

Del Rio is attempting to stop the Jackson County Planning Department's tentative approval of an expansion of a neighboring gravel operation into 183 acres zoned woodland resource off North River Road.

Donald Rubenstein, Jackson County hearings officer, will conduct a public hearing on the issue at 10:30 a.m., Monday, in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave.

Rogue Aggregate of Medford, a subsidiary of Knife River Inc., proposes expansion of a conveyor system to bring down materials that have been blasted and crushed.

Rogue Aggregate has told the county that the proposed changes will not result in increased production of gravel.

Expansion of the conveyor system should reduce dust as well as engine and braking noise from trucks, according to Rogue Aggregate. The company states that improved storm water retention systems should minimize runoff into ditches that empty into the Rogue River.

Rogue Aggregate also wants to expand the area where materials are stockpiled.

The aggregate operation is readily apparent from North River Road and Interstate 5. A hillside has been excavated above a stand of madrone trees, exposing rock that is used for local roadways, including I-5.

In general, Jackson County Development Services staff supported the findings of the expansion presented by Knife River.

Wallace said the dust and smell from the asphalt production at the gravel operation drifted into his vineyards last summer. He said he thinks the expanded operation will create more dust and odors, which will hurt his ability to sell wine in bulk to large customers in the Willamette Valley.

Wallace said many of his customers visit the vineyards during the growing season. The odors could also affect his wine-tasting room, he said.

The 15-year-old winery with its iconic red barn has 205 acres planted with vines, and Wallace said he would like to add another 147 acres in the future.

Wallace said other neighboring property owners have considered growing grapes but are concerned about the gravel and asphalt operation.

"Last summer, it smelled so bad that some of my neighbors stayed at the coast," he said.

Wallace said his valley of vines fills with dust when Rogue Aggregate uses dynamite to break loose the rock.

"They're expanding so aggressively and are changing the area so quickly," he said.

Neighbors have complained to the county that the gravel operation will create more dust, disrupt wells and create traffic problems.

Representatives from Knife River could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Scott McCollum, a neighbor who lives across the street from the gravel operation, said the problems with rock mining escalated about five years ago.

"It's just been a dustbowl around here," said McCollum, who owns the Rogue Regency Inn in Medford. "In the morning, you get up and see that layer of dust on everything. In the summer, in the evening, you might be able to see a couple hundred yards."

McCollum has lived along the river for about 40 years, and he remembers when Bristol Silica had a small-scale mining operation at the gravel site.

Now, trucks arrive frequently during the day, and the operation appears to increase each year, McCollum said.

"It went from a nice, quiet, little area to a noisy, dusty area in five or so years," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

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