Many local residents are aware of the proposed basalt quarry that would be on Robbs Hill Road just east of Perry. The large quarry would be constructed alongside the Robbs Hill Creek drainage, leading into the Grande Ronde River. The proposal is to remove more than 200 million tons of rock over the next 89 years (or 100, or 137 years, depending on which page of the application you read). Over time, the quarry would obliterate a mountainside by shipping basalt by rail to asphalt markets in California and the Midwest. As many as 46 additional trains would traverse our valleys daily to remove the rock.

The quarry would benefit present owner James Smejkal by allowing him to sell his ranch for millions. Mr. Smejkal is 87 and lives in Western Oregon — he won’t be around to worry about the environmental devastation caused by the quarry. The quarry also would enable local resident Steve West to purchase the ranch where the quarry would be located. West intends to “devalue” the remainder of the ranch by granting a conservation easement (which incidentally would allow him to expand or replace any existing buildings and to lead guided commercial hunts on his private game refuge).

The quarry would also benefit developer Curtis Shuck. One of Shuck’s prior proposals was the failed “oil by rail” plan to transport millions of barrels of North Dakota crude oil by rail, along the Columbia River, to the port of Vancouver. Shuck doesn’t have to be concerned about environmental degradation caused by the quarry. He moves around, but presently lives in Montana. The payoff for our county would be ... five jobs (or six, or seven, depending on which page of the application you read), the degradation of the canyon’s scenic beauty, and the devaluation of land values for miles surrounding the quarry.

Smejkal first submitted a proposal to develop the quarry in 2018. The Union County Board of Commissioners rejected it as seriously deficient. Now Smejkal has a new application the commissioner will hear April 7. The county planning commission has denied the application because of numerous failures to address (sometimes even to acknowledge) critical regulatory requirements.

The new application raises serious environmental concerns regarding air pollution caused by increased diesel train traffic and quarry operating equipment; dust, noise, possible environmental damage to the Grande Ronde River; and the destruction of wetlands. It is unclear who would provide the financial backing to develop the quarry, or who would run it. The multimillion-dollar investment required would certainly bring in a corporate entity with the money to ignore environmental regulations, and any foreign corporation would be exempt from many environmental restrictions.

The application itself is filled with internal contradictions, with unreasonable assertions that simply don’t compute, and bald assurances based on no data whatsoever. It flatly ignores many critical questions and regulations. If these people run their quarry the way they write an application, we are in for a company with no regard at all for compliance with the most basic regulations.

For all these reasons, the Union County commissioners should deny the quarry application at their April 7 meeting.


Michael Howard, 75, lives in La Grande, is a forensic scientist in private practice and retired from the Oregon State Police as director of the Bend crime lab.

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