Granite Const. Quarry project wins approval

Quarry project wins approvalVote follows debate over environmental concerns(California) In a decision capping three years of intense debate, Monterey County supervisors granted Granite Construction Co. permission Tuesday to develop a massive mine in the rolling hills east of Chualar.The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to grant the Watsonville-based construction company permission to mine about 1.5 million tons of rock annually from a section of the Handley Ranch during the next 113 years. “Fortunately, we’re dealing with a company with a long track record that started in our own back yard,” said Supervisor Butch Lindley. Granite Construction is among the leading purveyors of aggregate rock and materials used for road construction in California.The company’s history and reputation won the day Tuesday, though a contingent of Salinas Valley residents expressed strong reservations about the permit and the potential lingering effects of the quarry operations. The debate over the project lasted more than three hours.”If you approve this, Granite gets everything it wants,” said Michael Stamp, an attorney representing a group known as Preserve Our Valley. “Monterey County gets 113 years of environmental problems.”The county’s Planning Commission approved the quarry last November, but Preserve Our Valley, a quarry opposition group led by Chualar Canyon residents Dick and Allison Stewart, appealed to the Board of Supervisors for a second opinion. Supervisors denied the appeal by a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Dave Potter absent.Kurt Kniffin, the plant manager for Granite, said the demand for aggregate will continue to rise in Monterey County and the Handley Ranch quarry will diminish the area’s dependence on more costly rock from outside the county.After an extensive search of the available mining areas in Monterey County, Granite concluded that Handley Ranch met the company’s needs, Kniffin said. The ranch is located a relative distance from urban settings, and the quarry will not be a visual eyesore in high-traffic areas of the county.”Mother Nature was very generous to Handley Ranch, as far as rock goes,” Kniffin said.But residents of Chualar Canyon, located on the other side of the hill from the quarry, said they worried about a range of issues, from water quality and quantity to the noise that would emanate from the mining operation.Stamp and others said that environmental documents prepared to investigate possible consequences of the quarry failed to analyze key issues. Stamp also said the project violates zoning policies, the county’s general plan, air pollution standards and provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act.Stamp said the environmental analysis “identifies issues, trivializes them and then rejects them.”The permit, which will formally be adopted in two weeks, imposes more than 100 conditions on the operations of the quarry. While it is mining the hillside, the company will also “reclaim” areas of the property to return the land to its original condition.While agreeing to the plan, several county supervisors said they were concerned about how — and who — will enforce the permit conditions and the reclamation of the hillside during the next 113 years.”The county gave numerous permits to Kaiser over the years,” said Supervisor Lou Calcagno, referring to a dolomite processing quarry in the Salinas Valley. “But no one ever expected them to go bankrupt and leave the county with $10 million worth of cleanup.”Among the conditions imposed on the Handley Ranch permit, Granite must post bonds so the county will be able to reclaim the property use if the company abandons the quarry.Nearly three dozen residents of the area testified during a public hearing on the issue, with testimony divided among those who supported the quarry and those who said they worried about the long-term consequences.Don Chapin, who operates a company in direct competition with Granite, offered his support, saying that the quarry will help fill the need for aggregate rock in the Central Coast for years to come.And a group of residents from the nearby community of Chualar also said they supported the quarry, saying that Granite has already proved to be a good neighbor by offering improvements to local schools and other town services.But others said that Granite’s plans are too vague and that the county’s permit is too open-ended.”I’m appalled at the environmental damage this project will impose,” said Red Bryan, a strawberry grower and a Chualar Canyon resident. “Granite sold us a bill of goods about the details of this project.”Bryan and another grower, John Jackson, worried that county regulations and zoning ordinances that apply to them are not being enforced in the Granite case.”If farmers have to comply with the regulations, so should Granite Construction,” Jackson said.And Bryan said that turning what is now grazing land into a heavy industrial use establishes a dangerous precedent in Monterey County.”If that’s the case, I want to stand in line to start converting my farmland,” he said.

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