The Asphalt Plant and the Rajneeshpuram
Round two of the battle for Dundee hills began with the innocuous Crabtree Rock quarry. It operated along one edge of the hills during the 1970s and 80s where it produced good gravel. Some developers wanted to change the definition of a quarry to an “industrial zone.” Defining the area as an industrial zone would allow the manufacturing of asphalt.
Jim had a fundamental problem with this. The manufacture of asphalt produces a very strong odor. “A vineyard is like a giant sponge, it just sucks in its environment” he explained to me. If these odors went into the air, it was goodbye to the sweet tasting Dundee Hill grapes, and by this time Jim wasn’t the only wine grower on the hills.
So Jim and the other vintners went to the county to try to protect their vines. The county ruled against them.
Wine farmers aren’t the kind to fold up and let it go, so Jim took his case to the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). Jim was helped along the way by his neighbors including the Weber, Stevens, Lett, Archibald and Bower families, Dick Erath, Jim’s own family and the 1000 Friends of Oregon association, which stepped in to help with legal fees.
On the day of the ruling, in December 1982, Jim was in for a bit of a surprise. He showed up to the courthouse to find it surrounded by reporters and TV cameras. They weren’t there for him but for the Rajneeshpuram land use trial that was to follow his case. The reporters showed up early, but they weren’t to be disappointed.
Jim actually took center stage towards the end of the hearing. He tells me, thirty years later, “My attorney just blew it. I could tell the Commissioners weren’t convinced.” So he stood up to say something, anything. He didn’t have a thing prepared but he knew they were losing and he couldn’t bear it. There were seven Commissioners to convince to rule in his favor and the livelihood of Dundee wines resting on his shoulders.
He ended up making quite a case. He pulls his arguments forward again as I listen, rapt as if it was the same day as the trial and I were sitting there in person. I felt like one of the reporters who all sat and listened, taking more notice as the hearing went on. It wasn’t the high-profile Rajneesh case, but many of the reporters could tell that this farmer was full of passion and began to feel for him. Jim noted their growing interest as his speech developed.
Jim began by invoking the rights of an Exclusive Farm Use zone: “You know, we made an investment in viticulture… we did that because we knew we had the protection of an EFU zone. ” He went on to talk about how Ozone stipple (the product of asphalt production) is not compatible with vineyards, how it kills them.
His strongest argument came when he addressed himself to the people of Oregon: “Oregonians are gonna have to make a choice, do they want viticulture or do they want industry? We’ll go plant [our vines] somewhere else.” Vineyards had been a smart investment for farmers to make, and Oregonians were reaping the benefits.
By his very presence, Jim managed to highlight the differences between impersonal business industry and family farming.
The Commissioners voted 6 to 1 for the vintners.
Jim says he was told later that it was thanks to him that they won that day. The Commission had been set against him before the hearing even began. Thanks to his passion, and a lady commissioner who pushed for him in deliberation, he protected the Hills from the asphalt plant.