Grand Island residents and farmers Casey and Rusty Kulla

For over two years, Crag attorneys Ralph Bloemers and Courtney Johnson have been working with local farmers on Grand Island to protect the island from a proposed new gravel pit mine.  Yesterday, the Land Use Board of Appeals issued its decision, finding that  Yamhill County’s approval of the gravel mine was flawed.

Grand Island is a unique farming community located on the Willamette River near Dayton, Oregon and the crossing of the Wheatland Ferry.  The island supports a variety of farming operations ranging from larger traditional crop farming to smaller family-run farms.  Farms on Grand Island produce many different fruits, vegetables, seeds and grains and provide the local and surrounding communities with fresh, organic produce through Community Support Agriculture programs, farm stands, farmers’ markets, U-pick operations and a pumpkin patch.

Farmers and neighbors in the area who care about the island challenged a proposal for a gravel mining operation that would last for up to 30 years and dramatically increase traffic, dust, and noise.  Concerned about impacts to agriculture, tourism, water quality and quantity, and quality of life for island residents, these community members asked Crag for help.

Crag first helped the group of neighbors formalize their organization, creating the non-profit Protect Grand Island Farms.  Next, we carefully reviewed the application and governing laws, and identified experts to help explain important issues to the Yamhill County Commissioners, like impacts to water, wetlands, and flooding.  The farmers and island residents themselves were the experts with regard to impacts to farming operations, and we helped them organize their testimony and make a clear case why, on Grand Island, gravel mining and farming are incompatible.

Our clients were disappointed that 2 of 3 County Commissioners approved the proposed gravel mine, and decided to take the matter up with the Courts.  Crag took the case to the Land Use Board of Appeals for the local community and presented the case in mid-September.

Yesterday, our clients’ perseverance and dedication to protecting their community was rewarded with a decision sending the matter back to the County on two important issues.  The appeals board found that Yamhill County erred in approving the project because of its impacts on groundwater used by residents for drinking water and irrigation and because of its failure to ensure compliance with floodplain laws.  The County had illegally granted the miner permission to build a massive berm in the floodway, putting neighbors and farmers at great risk.

There is still work to be done.  For now Grand Island remains a beautiful place to farm, live, and enjoy life.  If you haven’t been yet, we suggest you go see it for yourself this Fall and pick up yourself a pumpkin, visit the corn patch with your kids and support the local community.  Grand Island is just a short distance away from Portland, Salem, McMinnville and it is a special place.