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Mendocino County Today: March 27, 2012

THE SUPES toured the controversial Harris Quarry on Ridgewood Grade just south of Willits on Monday (March 26). Harris wants to expand. Many people are opposed. In addition to the expansion of the quarry, its proponents want approval for an asphalt plant. They say it makes sense to co-locate the two operations, instead of trucking the rock somewhere else to make it into asphalt. Lots of contractors say that Granite Construction Company, which enjoys a near monopoly on local asphalt production, dearly needs some competition to bring prices down. (If the Willits Bypass ever comes to pass, the Harris Quarry would be well positioned to sell asphalt to whatever poor contractor gets stuck with the job.)

THE OPPOSITION calls itself “Keep The Code,” meaning the current zoning that does not allow asphalt manufacture alongside rock quarries. It includes residents of a nearby trailer park and charter school and lots of back to the land types who live west of the hill that is being torn down for rock. They rightly complain that it will be an intrusion into an otherwise relatively rural environment where there is relatively little noise and unobstructed views of the night sky. The asphalt plant backers want permission to run nighttime operations. Opponents also cite the already hazardous road and traffic conditions on Ridgewood grade, which is often cloaked in fog and rainy weather.

THE COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION recently voted 7-0 to approve the quarry expansion project. The zoning code change to allow an asphalt plant in rangeland applies to rangeland anywhere in the County except the coastal zone, but only if the plant is co-located with an active quarry and only if it is not in the floodplain. According to the staff report, out of the ten or so active quarries in the County, only the Harris quarry and one other meet the criteria to co-locate an asphalt plant. Environmental review would still be required.

QUARRY OPPONENTS may have overplayed their hand by raising the alarmist cry that the zoning code change would open up 41% of the County, including the Coastal Zone, to asphalt plants, oil and gas drilling and fracking. Opponents were also accusing the planning staff, not generally noted for their pro-development slant, of conspiring with the proponents to push the project through. It seems a more fruitful approach would be to focus on the traffic, visual blight and obvious neighborhood impacts of the project.

AS WE UNDERSTAND IT, the zoning change will be appealed to the Board of Supervisors for approval, then the Planning Commission can consider the actual project which will then wind up before the Supes again for a final decision. The way the Board votes on the zoning change may well signal how they feel about the project in general. They eyeballed the site themselves on Monday.

WHAT IF there’s a big Bypass halt?

Surely no one could be held at fault.

They could still change the zone

But their plans would be blown

if there’s no market for their asphalt

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