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Progress continues on Austin Quarry

The coffers of Madera County recently took in nearly $1 million for continued studies on a proposed 671-acre quarry site at the southwest corner of highways 41 and 145.

The Austin Quarry, proposed by Vulcan Materials Company based in Birmingham, Alabama, will, if approved, span that acreage with 258 of it designated for a 400-foot-deep rock quarry permitted for 100 years.

It would be located near the southwest corner of Highways 41 and 145, about a mile west of Highway 41, and at the site’s farthest northern edge about 100 feet from Highway 145.

Vulcan, through amended contracts approved by the Madera County Board of Supervisors Jan. 26, put $495,742 in county deposits for administration and associated work on the project, $333,724 to lead consultant Benchmark Resources of Folsom, and $160,000 to Sacramento law firm Abbott and Kinderman.

The money all goes to finalizing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), a key document which will be reviewed by the Madera County Planning Commission then sent to the Board of Supervisors with the commission’s recommendation on how to proceed. Final approval will be by the supervisors.

Deputy planning director Matthew Treber said it’s difficult to estimate when the EIR will be completed.

After Vulcan first applied for the quarry in July 2010, it has faced several concerns over potential negative impacts. When a Revised Draft EIR was issued Oct. 21, 2014, the county later received around 300 letters, some from state agencies, voicing concerns over the project.

“There’s a reason this is taking a very long time, because the public had a lot of really good comments and concerns,” Treber said. “It’s certainly helped make the EIR better to ensure those concerns are met.”

At meetings in Coarsegold and the Madera Ranchos on the project’s revised draft, many residents worried about their wells running dry, increased noise and traffic, and the aesthetics of a quarry near highways that lead to Yosemite National Park.

Bruce Gray, chairman of the Madera Oversight Coalition (MOC) that organized those meetings, said those worries still exist.

But, he added, though the group opposes the quarry on several principles, as long as it follows the law, it may be acceptable.

“If they don’t follow the law, as in if they don’t abide by (California Environmental Quality Act) and land use laws, we’ll have a major problem,” Gray said. “We are not out to stop this project, we’re there to make sure the county does their job in properly vetting this issue.”

Gray added MOC’s positions may change dependent on what is contained in the final EIR, and the group will plan future meetings for the Mountain Area.

Mike Linton, Vulcan’s spokesman for the Austin Quarry, said the company is paying attention to the public’s concerns.

“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 for 18 months, meeting with individuals and groups explaining the project, its benefits, and answering questions.”

Linton said once the Final EIR is finished, Vulcan will hold meetings and send out material on any changes to the project. The Austin Quarry as proposed would process 2.5 million tons of aggregate material a year.

Treber said to help assuage legal concerns, the Abbott and Kinderman firm, with expertise in CEQA and land use law, was hired by the county last April as a third party to ensure proper processes are being followed. Benchmark is also a county hire through funds provided by Vulcan.

For aesthetic issues, Treber said potential plans include constructing 4-to-10-feet-tall berms around the project site, as well as surrounding it with local tree plantings.

Expansion of the highways, increased traffic effects, and other concerns will be addressed in the Final EIR, Treber said.

Funds are held by the county in a trust fund, and the county makes payments to the contractors. The county receives 20% of the funds for administration and additional required work on the EIR. The overall cost of the Final EIR is about $1.5 million, Treber said.

Vulcan is the nation’s largest supplier of aggregate construction materials and owns quarry facilities in Friant, Fresno, Sanger, and Madera among its nationwide locations.

The Madera Quarry, located in the O’Neals area on Road 209 behind 22 Mile House, is in operation for a permitted 50 years while providing a maximum 900,000 tons of aggregate material annually.

Details: Vulcan Materials Company, (559) 474-3384, austinquarry.com. Madera Oversight Coalition, (559) 868-4400, noaustinquarry.org.

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