With the summer roadwork season already in swing, conflicting claims about the asphalt production capacity of the county are being aired, while two proposed plants remain in litigation limbo, and a the managers of the Granite plant outside of Ukiah claim they can cover all the needs of the county. Meanwhile the Grist Creek plant, located on Hwy. 162 near the junction with the 101, and adjacent to Outlet Creek, has been blocked by legal action from an environmental group, and the Harris Quarry plant may be running by this summer.
Glenn Colwell, a representative for the group Friends of Outlet Creek, believes that the Board of Supervisors overstepped their authority by allowing Grist Creek to operate an asphalt plant, and his group is petitioning in court to force a full environmental impact report (EIR). Said Colwell, “The only option for the citizens of Mendocino County who may oppose this plant as a public nuisance or dangerous land use planning is a lawsuit.” Adding latter, “The watershed belongs to everyone...Fast tracking approval of an asphalt plant on Outlet Creek seems like government abdicating its responsibility to represent all constituents, and not just business interests.”
At the March 17 Board of Supervisors meeting the question of whether or not to allow the Grist Creek site to open up was framed as one of necessity for the county. As Colwell contends, “...several of the supervisors repeatedly stated that if this new asphalt plant was not approved, that the County would have to import asphalt from Humboldt and Sonoma Counties. This does NOT [sic] seem to be the case based on our inquiries with local asphalt producers…”
Indeed, at the meeting Supervisor Tom Woodhouse stated, “We absolutely have reached the point where we have to have materials to repair our roads. They’re all falling apart at this point...I just think shipping from Humboldt and Sonoma—having them have the jobs there and taking responsibility for a clean environment—we shouldn’t be afraid to protect ourselves. We have to use our resources, our timber and our rock. That’s all we have here...I’m gonna be here the rest of my life, my kids are going to be here, we have to have an economy based on something real other than marijuana.”
With Supervisor John McCowen adding, “It’s frankly insane that we import asphalt from Humboldt County, Sonoma County, it’s a strain on our economy…”
But Carson DeVinny, manager of construction materials at Granite Construction, stated to both TWN and Colwell that the existing Granite plant is up to the challenge of providing asphalt to Mendocino County. Additionally, DeVinny stated that even if new plants were to come online, Granite would only ever use asphalt from their own plants instead of purchasing from other companies.
But Brian Hurt, owner of the Grist Creek plant and Wylatti Resource Management, disagrees with this contention, stating that he believes construction companies would be willing to buy asphalt from other companies because, “In this business it’s all about logistics and trucking is really expensive.”
It also appears that the Harris Quarry site, south of Willits on the 101, might begin producing asphalt this summer. That plant, owned by Northern Aggregates, which is part of Mendocino Construction Services, has been in limbo due to litigation since 2012. In March 2012 the planning board recommended an approval of the EIR and an “Ordinance Amendment” creating a “Mineral Processing (MP) Combining District.” And by June 2012 the process had gone through various appeals with the Board of Supervisors approving the EIR and the ordinance amendment. However, the project was quickly bottled up in litigation.
But according to Colwell, a Northern Aggregates official Pat Allen, stated that they would be completing the legal process in the next couple months and are planning to begin production this summer. In an email Planning and Building Services Director Steve Dunnicliff said, “I have no information as to when this litigation will end.” County Counsel Doug Losak did not respond to requests for comment.
Colwell opined that with a plant at Harris Quarry, Grist Creek would not be as necessary. Allen declined to comment in response to a request for confirmation. No one else at Northern Aggregates responded after several emails and calls.
To some extent the site of production is beside the point as far as government road work is concerned. Mendocino Department of Transportation Director Howard Dashiell explained that as with most government contracts, the county is required by law to accept the lowest price from contractors bidding for roadwork.
Dashiell added, “My official position is I don’t support individual projects...we support the development of material sources, rock and asphalt in Mendocino...It is hard for us to get material, material is expensive, and frankly there are times when we can really only find one source, and that’s never good for competition.”
Hurt contends that the distances involved are precisely the reason that his Grist Creek site is ideal for delivering asphalt to the northern third of the county.
Among the bigger projects CalTrans has slated for the summer is a $8,387,138 repaving of Hwy. 101 around Laytonville, contracted to Mercer Fraser Company (MFC), a Humboldt based construction company. MFC currently delivers asphalt from plants in Humboldt County, however, Hurt stated that Grist Creek has a contract with MFC, and even specific purchase orders, to provide asphalt on the job. This contract could not be confirmed.
Hurt also insists that he has been in discussions with county officials for several years about the need for another plant, naming former planning director Nash Gonzalez and former supervisor John Pinches. And that the site has already gone through an extensive review process, stating that, “The important thing was that it was fully public noticed, there was not one single comment from the public for this plant being rezoned.” Adding that he’s spent a minimum of $150,000 to address environmental concerns, and that he has complied and cooperated with the various state environmental regulation agencies in upgrading his plant.
Hurt also worries that an abundance of lawsuits over environmental concerns could hamper business in the county, “If [business owners] can’t feel comfortable buying the property that they are going to be able to do with it was the law says they can do, they’re not going to come here, or they’re not going to expand their business.”
Most of the road work in the county is paid for by the county department of transportation or by CalTrans. Dashiell reported that the county does patching with its own crews, sending out asphalt purchases to bid, but that for major work it contracts out. In the past two years only Mendocino Construction Service (which owns the Harris Quarry) and Granite Construction (which owns the plant near Ukiah) have been awarded contracts.
As for Caltrans they also contract out their projects, recently the Oil Well Hill project, north of Willits, was contracted to Granite; the project north and south of Laytonville, slated for this summer, is contracted to MFC. CalTrans spokesman Phil Frisbie stated that, “Contractors from all over California bid on Mendocino County projects. Some contractors have their own portable asphalt plants that they bring in, others purchase from local plants.”
(Courtesy, the Willits News)