After almost six hours of heated discussion, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided to allow CB Asphalt and Ford Construction to proceed with the construction and operation of a hot-mix asphalt plant at Hogan Quarry outside Valley Springs without a conditional use permit.
Supervisors voted 3-2 to deny the appeal of grassroots organization MyVal-leySprings.com and six area residents – Janice Bassett, Brock Estes, Dr. Benedicto Estoesta, Richard and Terri Henderson and Lora Most – to overturn the Calaveras County Planning Commission’s Dec. 17 decision to allow the plant to operate without the permit, contrary to the recommendation of its own Environmental Management Agency staff.
Supervisors Michael Oliveira, Steve Kearney and Cliff Edson voted to deny the appeal while Supervisors Chris Wright and Debbie Ponte voted to grant it.
Joyce Techel, president of MyValleySprings.com, said the opportunity to appeal the decision administratively has been exhausted, but the fight is not over.
“We are actively pursuing our legal options,” Techel said.
Techel and the six other appellants were joined by dozens of supporters, many of who said they lived on or near the road leading to the quarry.
The group expressed
concerns with the cumulative health impacts of living close to the plant, declining property values as a result of the asphalt fumes, increased truck traffic and the proximity of the plant to the Calaveras River, which is 800 feet away.
“Do we want to be another Flint, Mich.?” Most asked, referring to the city where the local government switched the residents’ drinking supply from a clean source to a contaminated one.
But Diane Kindermann, a lawyer representing CB Asphalt and Ford Construction, asked the board to deny the appeal because she said there is “plenty” of evidence that there will not be a significant impact to the environment. She said that any potential impacts have already been addressed, and the applicants’ operations are already subject to permitting and review by 18 different agencies.
A smaller group of residents also said the asphalt plant would benefit the county economically and create jobs, although there are conflicting reports on the number of jobs that will actually be created.
Kindermann said that Ray Kapahi, the consultant hired by the county to evaluate the proposed asphalt plant, found there would not be a significant environmental impact.
But Jason Boetzer, director of the Environmental Management Agency, said Kapahi’s report was narrowly focused and not as comprehensive as the Dec. 10 report prepared by his agency.
The Dec. 10 report found that the asphalt plant could have a significant impact to the environment in terms of its impact to the nearby Calaveras River and the amount of truck traffic generated, approximately 150 trucks leaving the plant at maximum production.
Edson said that the Butte Fire debris removal operations are also generating a substantial amount of traffic, but Boetzer said “that’s also short-term.”
Boetzer also said the applicants had either failed to submit information needed to analyze other impacts or had provided conflicting information.
Ponte said she thinks Ford Construction is running a good operation at the moment and is a good neighbor in the community, but found the facts and figures in the reports “interesting and puzzling all at once.” Ponte said she supported granting the appeal because it would give the public opportunity to air concerns and the county an opportunity to address them.
“I do find that there is some significant impact on the environment and the community and I think we need to go through the planning commission process with a CUP (conditional use permit),” Ponte said.
Oliveira, Kearney and Edson said the plant would also still have to undergo a California Environmental Quality Act review through the Calaveras County Air Pollution Control District in order to get the authority to construct it.
The California Environmental Quality Act requires local agencies to regulate any activity that may have a significant impact on the quality of the environment and reduce those impacts.
“The environmental review is not going to stop with this,” Kearney said. “From what I can read on the air resources board instructions, the environmental review on the authority to construct is almost more thorough than what would be done for a conditional use permit.”
Planning Director Peter Maurer, however, said though the processes of reviewing the impacts are similar, the air pollution control district only examines the impact of a project on air quality for the authority to construct while the issues addressed by a conditional use permit are broader in scope.
Both processes require an initial study to determine the environmental impacts, followed by an identification of any measures that could mitigate those impacts. If the impacts cannot be fully mitigated, an environmental impact report is prepared.
But a conditional use permit is issued through the Planning Department and is required of projects that would change the use of a particular zone.
“It would then allow the county to review and consider whether or not, through the zoning provisions, this is the appropriate location based on a wide variety of factors,” Maurer said.
When such a project is proposed, the planning director notifies the county health officer, who reviews the type of hazardous substances the proposed project will use, as well as the amount and method of using them. If the health officer determines there could be a significant impact to the environment after that review, then the planning director notifies the project applicants that a conditional use permit is required.
The conditional use permit imposes conditions intended to mitigate those impacts to the environment.
Maurer said Calaveras County is unique in that it takes a liberal approach to reviewing the types of uses and its oversight of hazardous substances.
Maurer said, “My experience in other jurisdictions is that an asphalt plant categorically requires a conditional use permit.”