The Austin Quarry has left many longtime residents of the Madera Ranchos worried over their futures.
Namely, if approved by the Madera County Planning Commission Tuesday, July 19, the proposed 100-year aggregate mining facility near Highways 41 and 145 may force some into planning their relocation.
“I will absolutely move,” said John Cline, who has lived in a home about three miles west of the quarry since 1986. “I’ve already sunk a new well, but it won’t do any good if this comes in ... All I can say is buyer beware.”
Among the many concerns voiced by Cline and some 100 others at a meeting hosted by Vulcan Materials Company last week were impacts to water, traffic, and air quality.
During the event, held at Ranchos Middle School, no table was more visited than one focused on water which has caused worry among Ranchos residents that the 671-acre site - 258 of it designated for the quarry at 400 foot deep - could run their wells dry.
“They’re right on top of a major population center,” said Tom Zonsius, who also lives within four miles of the proposed aggregate mine. “There’s a possibility that if this quarry drains from the water basin, or the traffic becomes overwhelming, that we’ll become a ghost town because nobody will want to live here anymore. And that’s extremely frightening.”
Michael Linton, Vulcan’s project manager for the Austin Quarry, gave a more positive view.
In the nearly 11,000-page Final Environmental Impact Report, he said it was determined by three separate hydrogeologists the quarry would have little effect on the water supply, which is common for similar “hard rock” sites.
Additionally, he said while some 85 acre-feet of water would be used by the quarry each year, it would provide 100 acre-feet to offset that use. The quarry site will also have a stormwater basin, Linton said, which will collect any water drilled by the quarry and pumped over, as well as capture rainfall to further recharge the aquifer.
“All we want to do is provide the facts to the public,” Linton said. “That’s our job, not trying to persuade people, as much as we’d like to.”
Linton added Vulcan agreed to fully fund construction of both an eastbound travel lane on Highway 145 from the project site to Highway 41, and an additional southbound lane on Highway 41 from that intersection to Avenue 15 about three miles south. He added 17 intersections along Highway 145 will be improved as well.
Opposing studies performed by Todd Groundwater, paid through the Madera Oversight Coalition which opposes the quarry, instead contend the site could consume as much as 4,000 acre-feet of water a year. The coalition also contends, despite Vulcan agreeing to the lanes, that traffic will become a proverbial nightmare for the public, with an average of 34 truck trips per hour to and from the site.
A majority of people at the meeting said they didn’t oppose the project itself, but want it in a different location where such potential impacts wouldn’t be felt.
“All of the trucks, all of the noise, all of the water, it’s going to drastically affect my personal property value and the amount of water storage among everything else,” Cline said. “I don’t see why we have the need to do this right now. It’s not needed here.”
Similar fears are expected to be heard by the five-member Madera County Planning Commission Tuesday, when it meets to vote on the quarry’s approval.
Norman Allinder, Madera County Planning Director, said whatever the vote, the decision is likely to be appealed and sent to the board of supervisors for discussion and review several months in the future.
“Multiple parties have inquired into the appeal process,” Allinder said. “An appeal is very likely on this big of a project.”
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. inside the board of supervisors chambers at 200 W. 4th Street in Madera.
The Austin Quarry, if constructed as proposed, will operate for a maximum 100 years. It will mine up to 2.5 million tons of aggregate annually, of which the county will receive a fee of 10 cents per ton for the first five years of operations, with increasing fee amounts every five years.
If the estimated 250 million tons of materials are exhausted before 100 years, the quarry operations will cease at that time, with reclamation work funded by Vulcan to restore the site for water and wildlife, completed within three years per federal law.
The quarry will employ between 15 to 40 employees on site throughout its lifespan.
A 12-foot berm will be in place along Highway 145 to obstruct views of the aggregate processing plant to the southwest corner of the 671-acre site. From Highway 41, rock outcroppings will obstruct the public’s view from the mining area as well. Vulcan also owns 2,000 acres to the west of the quarry for sound and sight buffers.
All volumes of the Final EIR can be found by clicking here, www.madera-county.com/index.php/county-forms/category/773-austin-quarry-final-eir-06-2016.