Business & economy, In the community

State orders halt to contractor to halt mining, restore Jasmine Slope land

Oregon authorities have ordered a contractor to restore rural acreage north of Ontario that he had been preparing for gravel mining.

And the owner of the property in an area known as Jasmine Slope was found guilty of illegal mining.

The developments are the latest in a years-long confrontation between families living near the property and the owner and contractor. The property is about 15 miles north of Ontario, west of Oregon Highway 201 near the Idaho border.

The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries found that Darren Lee of Ontario and his company, 4 Lees’ Excavation, didn’t have the necessary state permit for surface mining.

The agency in its order said that Lee was “required to restore all surface impacts” and return the 260 acres to “pre-mining condition by June 15.”

The notice requires Lee to remove substantial dirt berms erected around the property, remove a road and restore test pits.

Lee didn’t respond to a telephone message seeking comment, but the state agency said he has agreed to obey the order.

The property is owned by Dallas Head. He was convicted in Malheur County Justice Court earlier this month for illegal mining and fined $500.

Head, who spends time in Arizona, said by telephone that he wasn’t aware of the conviction.

He said he would fight the state’s order to remove a road, which he said he existed for 75 years and only had been improved.

“If they want to fill the rest back in, fine by me,” Head said.

Head and Lee in 2021 launched an effort to get government permission to mine gravel on the property. The acreage sits on a bluff with a half dozen homes bordering the property.

The neighbors banded together to fight the 2021 plans. The Malheur County Planning Commission denied the necessary permits that year, followed by a decision by the Malheur County Court in August 2021 that sided with the neighbors.

Last fall, Lee began excavation work on the property, alarming residents who thought the matter was settled. They contacted county, state and federal officials with complaints, prompting the state geology agency to act.

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