Shortly after the Madera County Planning Commission voted 3-2 to approve the Austin Quarry on 238-acres on the southwest corner of Highways 41 and 145, the Madera Oversight Committee (MOC) filed an appeal, forcing the issue before the Madera County Board of Supervisors.
The final Environmental Impact Report came out in early July, with the planning commission approving the project July 19, despite a request for an extension to give opponents time to go through the 11,000 page EIR.
A “No on Austin Quarry” public meeting, hosted by MOC, was held last week to discuss what’s next, and how best to prepare for the Board of Supervisors hearing, set for 9 a.m., Sept. 12, in Madera.
“The county has a long history of bad planning in our development,” Bing Hojlo told the MOC group of about 30. “Developers seem to come in and do whatever they want. Vulcan wants this site because of the type of granite that can be used for a multitude of purposes, their geologists say, but our geologist brought up other locations with that same granite - sites in Fresno and Merced.”
Owned by the nation’s leading producer of construction aggregates, Vulcan Materials, the 400-foot-deep quarry could produce up to 2.5 million tons of rock per year.
The operation would be allowed to run for 100 years, with the county receiving 10 cents per ton for the first five years of operation. That amount would increase every five years thereafter.
When it comes to water usage, according to the EIR, 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.
Trudy Tucker lives near the Bohna Rodeo grounds in Coarsegold.
“The first quarry (the Madera Quarry) created too much traffic on those two lane roads,” Tucker said. “For eight years, I drove to Clovis on Highway 41, and one of those quarry trucks came out of Road 209 moving too fast, and paying no attention to the line of cars, pulled right out into the lane. The signal turned red, the truck had to stop, and was slow getting going again so traffic backed up behind him ... with all the crazies trying to pass unsafely.”
While safety is her main concern, Tucker also worries about the increase in air pollution, and water shortage.
“With the climate change, there’s less and less and less water. One of the places they say they will get water from is the San Luis Reservoir, and that only has 11% water in it right now,” Tucker added.
Tucker has good reason to worry. After 24 years, her well ran dry last year. Besides the inconvenience, it cost her thousands and thousands of dollars to repair.
Another woman, who lives off Road 415 in Coarsegold and asked to remain anonymous, said, “Even though there’s a lot not right about this quarry, the planning commission passed it anyway. The county passes everything that comes before them. I don’t know anyone who is for the quarry, but they won’t do or say anything until it’s too late. This will definitely hurt families in the Ranchos, who already have water problems.”
“I hope this group can stop this thing,” commented Hank VanSloten,“but this was a done deal, the fix was in, and the county was going to okay this quarry from day one.”
Attorney David Hale insists “it’s not over.” Hired to represent MOC a couple of years ago, Hale lives in one of the homes closest to where the mining will take place.
“So what can we do?,” Hale began. “Write letters to all five supervisors. In those letters, add that 9 a.m. doesn’t work for you and why, and recommend they move the hearing to 6 p.m. Physically go down and speak to your supervisors. It will impress upon them that we care. And be at the hearing on the 12th. So organize, unite, and get everyone you know to write letters.”
“We have to pay attention,” Hojlo added. “The county is back-dooring this stuff. They’re supposed to be taking into consideration what the cumulative effects will be on the communities, and they’re getting away with this because no one says anything.”
The MOC concerns include:
☆ A new 400-foot deep, 258-acre hole blasted into the groundwater aquifer, drawing down wells for miles around
☆ Up to 3,848 new trucks dumped each day onto Highways 41 and 145, and twice as much traffic at rush hour
☆ 18-wheelers rumbling through residential areas day and night
☆ Constant dust and air pollution
☆ Property values dropping by 20%
☆ No new jobs or tax revenue
“I think Vulcan is just pie in the sky, trying to make themselves look good,” Tucker said. “I’m a Bernie person and these are the kinds of things we need to stand up against. We need to come together to fight for our health, for the safety of ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Together we can make this happen.”
One woman made a simple to-the-point comment: “Does Madera County want to be known as the gateway to Yosemite, or the county with quarries.”
According to Hale, no matter what the supervisors decide, this will become a legal battle, rather than an administrative one.
In a previous Sierra Star story (July 21), Michael Linton, Vulcan’s project manager for the Austin Quarry said it was determined by three separate hydro-geologists the quarry would have little effect on the water supply.
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; 17 intersections along Highway 145 will be improved as well.
“We understand that residents want to be assured that the project is safe and that it will benefit the community,” Linton said, adding the quarry will benefit the county economically. “We have been out in the community, meeting with individuals and groups explaining the project, its benefits, and answering questions.”
The project was first announced in 2010 by Vulcan Materials, based in Birmingham, Alabama. The company operates more than 300 aggregate facilities, with 40 asphalt, ready-mix and rock quarries in California including Friant, Fowler, Sanger, Los Banos and Gustine.
The 9 a.m. Sept. 12 meeting before the Board of Supervisors will be held at the government center, 200 W. 4th Street in Madera.
For more on Vulcan Materials, austinquarry.com.