The Mendocino County Air Quality Management District has served Grist Creek Aggregates in Longvale with a Notice of Violation for: operating without a permit; fugitive emissions, and a diesel airborne toxic control measure violation. The county fined the company $21,953.
The most serious violation, operating without a permit, refers to the fact that the Grist Creek/Mercer-Fraser was manufacturing rubberized asphalt with a Crumb Rubber Heating and Blending Unit that was not permitted.
Neighbors say the smell of burning rubber fills the Longvale Valley with noxious fumes every day the plant makes asphalt.
County Air Quality Management District Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Scaglione was out of the office this week and was not available for comment on the Grist Creek Aggregates violations.
Brian Hurt, owner of Grist Creek Aggregates, said he had no comment on the complaints against his company.
Third District Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, who in March urged the board to fast track the plant without requiring a full environmental review, said the county would shut the plant down if the owners cannot “make their product and keep the environment clean.”
Woodhouse believes the system is working.
“I think our air quality and Bob in particular have done a very good job of being responsive to the community and their complaints. And that’s what we had hoped,” Woodhouse said. “When you approve any project like this, it is subject to people obeying all the county and state laws that are applicable.”
One neighbor, Lyn Talkovsky, a member of Friends of Outlet Creek, a neighborhood group that opposed the asphalt plant from the start, said she isn’t sure the system is working. She is skeptical about the county’s commitment to residents, many of whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the plant’s fumes since Grist Creek/Mercer-Fraser begin making rubberized asphalt in September.
She thinks Caltrans should be held accountable for contracting with a company that is in violation of its permit.
“For six weeks Grist Creek has been producing rubberized asphalt, and now the project for Caltrans is done. Is it okay with Caltrans that the company that got the contract with them has been in violation the whole time? Is that the way Caltrans does business? I’m very, very skeptical.”
Talkovsky said Friends of Outlet Creek will continue to fight the plant in court but that the pressure placed on residents near the plant is enormous.
“The system isn’t working,” Talkovsky said. “The level of pollution that people are experiencing is unbelievable. There still hasn’t been a visit by the county air district or a supervisor to a neighbor’s home. We have pictures and videos of dense clouds of emissions in the valley, and it’s all been given to the county and the state and the supervisors. What does it take?”
Kirk Lumpkin is also active in the fight to stop the plant and questioned the value to the neighbors of the $21,953 fine.
“Where does the money go?” Lumpkin said. “It is not going to compensate the neighbors or test the water in the creek or further enhance the environment. It will go to the county which allowed this in the first place.”
Friends of Outlet Creek member and neighboring property owner to the asphalt plant, Glen Colwell, who recently retired from the Bay Area Air Quality District in San Francisco, noted that it is sometimes possible for industry attorneys to negotiate with regulators and request that penalties such as this one be decreased.
“In my opinion, if the county attorneys allow any negotiations to lower penalty costs for Grist Creek Aggregates, which may have willfully violated their permit conditions, it would be inexcusable and add additional insult to the injury already perpetrated on the asphalt plant’s neighbors.” Colwell said.
Another neighbor, Douglas Kerseg, said an attorney advised him that using equipment that is not permitted is fraud.
“We were disturbed that when they were given a notice of violation that they continued to operate,” Kerseg said, referring to the fact that the violation was issued Oct. 21 and the plant continued making rubberized asphalt until Oct. 31. “I tried to get Mr. Scaglione to say why, and he told me they were powerless to stop him. It’s amazing to me that they can have a process that uses equipment that’s not on their permit and they can continue to do so.”
Kerseg said neighbors will continue to fight on despite the high legal fees Friends of Outlet Creek is paying.
“One of our very significant problems is that we have raised and spent huge amounts of money which has gone to legal work, and we have significant liabilities to continue that effort. The toughest part of the equation is not just to spread the word but to be able to continue our legal battle to stop these people from operation.”
Friends of Outlet Creek will hold a community meeting on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 10 a.m., to get to know neighbors and discuss what can be done to stop the negative impacts of the asphalt plant. Location is the large pullout off Highway 162 just east of Highway 101.
Jane Futcher lives in Longvale and is a member of Friends of Outlet Creek.