The controversial Harris Quarry asphalt plant project was back on the Supes agenda Tuesday. The attorney for Harris Quarry wanted the Board to “take original jurisdiction” on the plant project so it could skip going back through the planning process (which the attorney said would be redundant since the project has been through the process before albeit unsuccessfully) after opponents to the plant successfully sued the County for having an inadequate Environmental Impact Report.
The opponents (mostly neighbors of the quarry/proposed asphalt plant who live on or near Ridgewood Ranch, old home of the famed Seabiscuit racehorse) disagreed, insisting that the project be re-processed through the normal planning process, saying it will smell up the place, represent a fire hazard, create traffic problems, lower property values, does not represent an emergency enterprise, and does not warrant expedited processing, and should be moved to a better location on Highway 20.
Opponents also said that an existing asphalt plant in Ukiah is operating at only about 40% capacity and therefore there’s no pressing need for another asphalt plant. (The original application was made in the days leading up to the Willits Bypass, which may have been the plant’s intended customer, but that project is now history. It's up and bypassing, albeit very light traffic.) The opponents do not object to the existing rock quarry operation, but they think the addition of an asphalt plant in that location should be denied.
The asphalt plant in the Ridgewood Ranch neighborhood (off Highway 101 between Willits and Ukiah) was first proposed 15 years ago and has undergone literally millions of dollars of litigation with thousands of public comments since then with the opponents eventually winning on appeal on grounds of an inadequate EIR which failed to adequately address alternative sites.
At noon, CEO Carmel Angelo told the Board that they had “attorneys on the phone” and they had to go into closed session.
The plant’s attorney of course disagreed with opponents, saying that Mendo doesn’t have enough asphalt to meet existing road repair needs and that the proposal had already been through the process and there would be negative economic impacts if it wasn’t approved as soon as possible. She also claimed the existing quarry would be shut down in July if the asphalt plant wasn’t approved.
Supervisors McCowen & Brown obviously wanted to approve the plant’s application and to skip the Planning Commission. Supervisor Williams didn’t see the urgency and wanted more data about the County’s total asphalt plant capacity before he decided.
Interestingly, the plant itself is in Supervisor Williams’ Fifth District under the County’s odd districting, which has the sparsely populated Fifth District reaching up to near the Willits City limits.
Williams’ motion to deny the plant’s request based on lack of evidence to support skipping the Planning Commission failed for lack of a second. McCowen then moved to approve skipping the Planning Commission and Brown and Gjerde agreed. So, the item will come back to the Board at a later date as yet unknown in spite of the applicant’s claim of impending shut-down.