Madera County has released a Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report that details a proposed open pit rock quarry on a 670-acre parcel on the southwest corner of highways 41 and 145.
The project was first announced in 2010 by Vulcan Materials, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates, with western division headquarters in Los Angeles. The quarry itself will use 258 acres of the parcel with the balance being used for rock processing.
A “No on Austin Quarry” public meeting, hosted by the Madera Oversight Coalition (MOC), was held Monday at the Oakhurst Community Center. The meeting, attended by 80 interested county residents, was moderated by Bruce Gray, chairman of the coalition.
Gray said the mission of the coalition is to encourage responsible growth through adherence to county general plan policies and state land use laws.
“We (MOC) usually look at three main issues ... water, traffic, and air ... help identify issues, write letters, and sometimes take legal action,” Gray said.
The largest concern with the proposed project, among many, is the number of large trucks that will use Highway 41 and 145 to haul processed rock out of the quarry. Gray said that at ‘peak’ operation, upwards of 1,800 truck-trips (up to 73 truck-trips per hour) will be made on the two highways, with about 75% heading south on 41, and 25% using 145 towards Madera to access Highway 99.
Project traffic will enter and exit the property off Highway 145, one mile west of Highway 41, and turn lanes and acceleration lanes will be constructed at the entrance of the property.
“Highway 41 is going to be extremely affected by this project,” Gray said.
Lucy Cliby of Coarsegold is concerned about the safety of Highway 41 with the additional truck traffic.
“When these 18-wheel trucks travel, they travel hard and fast,” Cliby said. “Four corners (Highway 41 and 145) is already a dangerous intersection. Anyone who travels Highway 41 should have a major concern about safety.”
Gray pointed to 10 approved or proposed subdivisions along the Highway 41 corridor between the Fresno River and Highway 145 that could add about 56,000 homes and more than 180,000 people within the next 25 years.
Vulcan will need to rezone the property from agricultural to mining and acquire a conditional-use permit before the company can build the Austin Quarry, a rock quarry that would produce up to 2.5 million tons of rock per year.
At full operation, 1.8 million gallons of water a day will be required for rinsing crushed rock with 90% of the water recycled back to the plant and reused.
Vulcan Materials, based in Birmingham, Ala., operates more than 300 aggregate facilities, with 40 asphalt, ready-mix and rock quarries in California including Friant, Fowler, Sanger, Los Banos and Gustine. Gray said the Friant quarry is running out of material and may close in the near future.
Meeting held to discuss concerns with quarry
A public meeting, hosted by the Madera Oversight Coalition, a group opposed to the project, was held Monday evening at the Oakhurst Community Center. Bruce Gray, chairman of the group, presented a long list of concerns with the project including the following:
Open 24/7: Permit allows operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, limited only by the operator’s business demands.
Lasts forever: 100 year term means 10 decades of impacts. Even after that, the steep-walled quarry pit would not be filled in and would remain forever.
Dries out wells: 258-acre, 400-foot deep quarry pit would drain up to 4,000 acre feet of water per year from the already over-drafted Madera Groundwater Basin causing well levels to drop for miles around, including in Madera Ranchos and Bonadelle Ranchos.
Trucks on roads: Would dump 1,784 new trucks each day onto routes 41 and 145, degrading levels of service (LOS) throughout the local road system. Vulcan says it will pay “fair share” toward road improvements, but doesn’t say where the rest of the money would come from or when.
Pollutes air: Increases ozone and other pollutants in an already polluted region.
Displaces new residential development: 348-acre site could be used for 1,000 homes. Other nearby property would be unsuitable for residences due to noise, fumes and dust from constant blasting and asphalt plant.
Doesn’t create jobs: Generates only 15 to 40 jobs, and zero construction jobs, as contrasted with residential development that could generate thousands of construction jobs.
Independent economist Dr. Gary Smith of Pomona College made the following conclusions about Austin Quarry:
There is no compelling evidence of a shortage of aggregate in Madera County, so the assumption that the quarry will fill a need is faulty.
The proposed quarry would not increase the amount of aggregate produced, but instead would merely shift production, jobs, and county revenue from other quarries in the county.
The quarry would reduce property values within a 5-mile radius by up to 20%, for a total reduction between $443 million and $738 million.
The reduction in property values within a five-mile radius would reduce annual county property tax revenue by $900,000 to $1.6 million.
A quarry would generate only $128,000 in property tax per year, compared to $4.5 million per year if the site were developed with 1,000 residences.
If the quarry site were to be developed as a residential subdivision, it would generate more than 3,000 temporary construction jobs and dozens more long-term jobs for services such as gardeners and painters.
A second public meeting hosted by MOC will be held at 6 p.m., Nov. 13, at Liberty High School in Madera Ranchos.
The project is expected to come before the Madera County Planning Commission and the Madera County Board of Supervisors in the first quarter of 2015.
The revised EIR covers many issues associated with the project, including quantity of surface and ground water, sensitive wildlife, roads and traffic, hazardous materials, and use of explosives. The complete EIR can be seen at madera-county.com.
Public comments on the Austin Quarry Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be received in writing no later than Dec. 5. Comments should be addressed to: Matt Treber, c/o Madera County Board of Supervisors, 200 West 4th Street, Madera, Calif., 93637; e-mail: Matthew.Treber@madera-county.com.