Rock the Valley
Granite Construction’s plans for an open pit mine east of Gonzales draws fire.
Thursday, March 4, 2004
Steve Grace, who manages land resources for the Granite Construction Company, says Monterey County uses about 2.8 million tons of aggregate rock a year. Close to half the product used locally is brought in from other counties. He says this out-of-county supply means more traffic in the county, and increases the cost of the rock, because hauling rates double every 25 to 35 miles.
To help fix this problem, and also to supply rock for the region, Granite has been pushing a proposal for a huge rock quarry in the Gabilan foothills, northeast of Gonzales.
Late last year, by a 6-2 vote, the County Planning Commission approved the proposed quarry, which would extract up to 1.5 million tons of gravel a year for 113 years, leaving behind an 80-acre reservoir.
Adam Harper, the manager for California Mining Association, calls the Granite Construction company’s plan “a very well designed project.”
“Monterey County, in looking at its long-term needs, is taking a very forward-looking position,” Harper says. He goes on to laud Granite, and the county, for helping to meet the region’s resource needs. “Aggregate is very important,” he says. “It’s what makes our buildings safe. It paves our roads. It builds affordable housing. A well-planned community plans for knowing where there resources are in terms of open space, housing and minerals.”
But some environmentalists and Salinas Valley residents say the plans show that the mine will pollute the air and water, congest Highway 101 and harm vineyards, row crops and farm workers in the Salinas Valley. On March 9, they’re hoping the County Supervisors will agree and stop Granite’s plans to develop the 333-acre Handley Ranch project, which would include an aggregate pit mine, asphalt and cement plants and recycling facilities.
In December 2003, a group called Preserve Our Valley filed an appeal to stop the project. Attorney Michael Stamp, who is representing the group, says the arguments against the pit mine and related facilities fall into two categories: land-use issues and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) issues.
Currently, the Handley Ranch property is zoned for agriculture and grazing uses.
Granite’s project includes a 224-acre pit mine, where explosives would be used to loosen the rock, four plants—one for aggregate, a cement concrete plant, an asphalt mixing plant, and a facility to recycle asphalt and concrete—and multiple conveyor belts, trucks and bulldozers.
In the past, new projects where blasting occurs, or ones that include cement-making activities, have been limited to areas zoned for heavy industrial use.
“These are clearly heavy industrial uses under the County General Plan and the area zoning plan,” Stamp says. “It is not a site designated for those types of use.”
Additionally, Stamp says, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) doesn’t pass muster with CEQA legal requirements.
“There are a number of problems here including a lack of analysis of [project] alternatives and air pollution,” he says.
“What this proposal really says is, ‘let’s take one of Monterey County’s beautiful resources, turn it into rock and sell it.’ If they were proposing it on the coast, for example, no one would even think you could do that—take all the sand of the beach and sell it to somebody, permanently, for 113 years. And I don’t think the mountains are any less significant than the coastline.”
Project opponents point to the EIR which states that the Monterey Bay Production Region—comprised of portions of Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Santa Clara counties—currently routes 50 percent of its total aggregate production to the San Francisco Bay area, and has permitted aggregate supplies to last until 2035.
“This literally is a gold mine to Granite,” says Alison Stewart, one of the founding members of Preserve Our Valley. “There’s no one else with an 100-plus year unlimited source this close to the Bay area.”
Since its inception in the fall of 2001, residents have fought the project.
Stewart and others say that the quarry will scar the view and destroy the area’s peaceful, bucolic nature.
They’ve also voiced concerns about traffic impacts, water use, potentially dangerous particulate matter from the crushed rocks, dust from the development and from trucks leaving the quarry, noise and air pollution from a plant that would be allowed to operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s a canyon,” says Melanie Horwath, a produce grower in Chualar. “Sound reverberates through it. Granite visited the Rotary, and the Farm Bureau, and they presented this as a simple little quarry. Most people don’t have a problem with that, and frankly, neither do I. But then when you look at the EIR, it’s a totally different picture.”
According to county estimates, the quarry will use between 239 and 310 acre-feet of water annually, enough water for 1,200 homes.
But opponents say there’s nothing to stop Granite from using more water.
“If they use 410-acre feet, there’s no penalty,” Stewart says.
The county’s EIR document says at maximum production the quarry and processing facilities would generate as many as 2,122 truck trips a day. That roughly equals three trucks every minute. Neighbors say the traffic will further clog Highway 101, and diesel emissions will increase air pollution.
Air pollution effects on area farm workers in nearby fields weren’t studied in the EIR.
But the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District has told county planners that pollution impacts exceed both state and county standards and noted that the “feasible mitigation measures” that would reduce the pollution aren’t addressed in the EIR.
“The County Board of Supervisors is being asked to say, even though we know that this permanently degrades the air quality of the Salinas Valley, we’re going to approve it anyway,” Stamp says.
Stewart points to the noise, the dust, the air pollution and the water use. “The logistics of it,” she says, “just don’t make sense.”
Granite’s Steve Grace calls these concerns “the same things that we heard at the Planning Commission.”
At that meeting, Grace says, “I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came forward and supported the project, from affordable housing advocates, residents from Chualar, people representing the Ohlone Indian tribe. The Salinas Valley Chamber spoke in favor of the project. So did labor.”
The quarry and on-site facilities are expected to employ 40 people.
And despite some residents’ concerns, he says, the Commission approved the project.
“I think we’ve addressed everything that the appeals have brought forward. We’re happy with the documents that we have. It’s a good project. There are a lot of people who support that project.”
He’s hoping the Board of Supervisors will agree.
It looks like the project will have the support of Supervisor Butch Lindley, who represents South County and lives in Chualar.
“We need good sources of building material that are relatively close to hold down the price of construction,” he says. “From what I’ve seen, the plan, the original documents, and the EIR, it appears to be a pretty good plan for the development of a quarry and a good, quality site for rock for us here in Monterey County. Unless something comes up in the next couple weeks, I suspect I will probably support it.
“There are some certainly some air quality concerns, with more truck trips that obviously creates diesel, exhaust, the mining operations creates some concerns, also dust concerns. I think those certainly can be mitigated.”
Lindley adds that because there are vineyards and other crops along the planned haul road—a private 1.5 mile road to haul rock out of the quarry—”they’ll certainly have to keep the dust down.” And Lindley says he trusts that they will.
Some neighbors, on the other hand, aren’t so sure.
“Long term, I don’t see it as a positive for the county,” Stewart says. “It’s a positive for Granite.”