Commissioners approve Weber quarry expansion

Sean C. Morgan

The Linn County Board of Commissioners last week approved the expansion of the Weber Quarry, located off Berlin Road near Skyline Road.

Final approval will follow at a later meeting, at which commissioners will decide whether to adopt a resolution finalizing the approval.

Kenneth and Renaye Carol Weber are seeking a 4-acre expansion of the quarry’s operation area by designating the new acreage as a significant aggregate resource, a move opposed by several residents in the area, who claim that blasting at the quarry has damaged their wells and homes over the years.

The quarry is operated by Liberty Rock Products, owned by Cal and Roger Emmert.

The decision places the same conditions on the quarry as previously set in 1996, with the exception that an asphalt batching plant will require a written request to the county planning director prior to operation on a job-to-job basis.

Conditions govern hours of operation, requirements to obtain permits and comply with regulations, lighting and buffer zones as well as blasting limitations.

The commissioners reserved the right to alter limitations on blasting if someone can prove to them that changing them would not result in damage to neighbor’s homes and wells. The commissioners also expanded the blasting notification area from 500 feet to 1,500 feet.

Commissioner Will Tucker moved to change the blasting limitations to National Fire Protection Association standards, allowing more explosives to be used.

Last month, attorney Myles Coway, representing Weber, told the board that the frequency of a blast is more important to determining whether the blast will cause damage than ground vibrations.

The quarry is currently under a limit of .3 inches per second for ground vibrations and 125 pounds of explosive per delay.

Blasting is done with a series of explosions milliseconds apart to minimize the vibrations caused by the blast.

Based on testimony and reading he completed about blasting, Tucker said the amount of explosives used in each delay should be increased to decrease the amount of energy sent into the ground.

Testimony indicated that under the current limits, the face of the rock isn’t completely removed by blasting, Tucker said. That keeps the blast energy contained in the ground.

If the delays had more explosives, removing the rock face, more blast energy would escape through the face of the rock rather than being contained in the ground.

“I would disagree with that,” said Commissioner John Lindsey. “A 1,000-pount bomb is bigger than a 500-pound bomb. The bigger the bomb, the bigger the boom. I would suggest the bigger boom is going to be a lot more disruptive.”

“If I’m going to change that set of rules, I need to be darn certain it’s going to improve things, not make things worse,” said Chairman Roger Nyquist. “I didn’t get a tangible example of that.”

Planning Director Robert Wheeldon said no other quarries operate with such limits in Linn County.

The batching plant has been allowed in the conditional use permit for the quarry since 1981, Wheeldon said. While it hasn’t been used, it has been approved and reapproved.

To mitigate the concerns of the neighbors, the applicant agreed to do it on a case-by-case basis, he said.

“I appreciate the applicant giving up one of his rights, reducing one of his rights,” Tucker said. It shows he is willing to start in a place of compromise.

They gave up a legal right just to get along with the neighbors, Tucker said.

Getting approval for an asphalt batching job is simple, Wheeldon said. Other plants in the county submit a letter to the planning director explaining the project.

“It’s almost like a notification,” he said.

The decision facing the commissioners included three main issues: Whether the site is a significant aggregate resource, blasting and the batching plant.

The commissioners voted 3-0, including Tucker, Nyquist and Lindsey, to declare the site a significant aggregate resource. The commissioners also voted 3-0 to impose the conditions, with the new notification area and 3-0 to retain the old blasting limitations with the chance to change them later if the board is convinced that it would improve the situation.

The board’s decision essentially directs planning staff to draft a resolution with conditions for adoption at a later board meeting.

Ben Withrow was among several neighbors at the board’s meeting on March 9.

He said the four acres are within 60 feet of his property and 100 feet of the artesian spring he uses for water.

The quarry will mine down 300 feet at that location, he said.

Since 1986, he has gone from being able to irrigate all day long to about 90 minutes in the summer and three hours at other times, Withrow said. He also noted that the monitors for ground vibrations aren’t being placed in the right places, such as the rock near his spring.

Another neighbor had to drill 300 feet to hit water, he said.

“I wish they wouldn’t even blast any further up than they are,” Withrow said. “We’re already losing water.”