Grist Creek Aggregates (GCA) asphalt plant resumed operations on Monday, March 28th, after being closed for the season since late last November. The plant has been the source of much controversy after it was fast tracked last March by the Board of Supervisors without conducting an environmental review of the potential impacts of the new plant on the neighborhood. The plant is now operating under a special agreement between the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District (MCAQMD) and GCA in order to allow the company to finish up its Caltrans project along Highway 101 North of Laytonville. The project was estimated to take an additional 5-7 days to complete.
The agreement, signed by both parties, requires GCA to limit the asphalt plant's hours of operation to between 10am and 6pm in order to avoid the morning inversion layer that traps noxious fumes in the canyon at the same elevation as nearby residents' homes, and also to bring it into compliance with state carbon monoxide emissions which were found to be 2.5 times greater than allowed. Despite the limited hours of operation last week, neighbors were inundated by fumes and smoke most mornings between 7 and 9am. "Seeing the Canyon fill with oily smoke forced me to leave the area early each morning", said resident Amy Lee. The plant is allowed to heat the asphalt oil outside the agreed on 10am-6pm hours of operation, and this is what residents believe may be causing the pollution in the morning before asphalt production begins. Residents of the neighborhood suffered significant health impacts from the asphalt plant's emissions last fall during it's previous two months of operations.
Tuesday, March 29th at a public hearing to appeal MCAQMD's permit of the plant's crumb rubber, heating and blending unit, Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Scaglione presented the agreement which stipulated that GCA hire a third party to review the facility operations and equipment and prepare a report outlining recommended changes. As part of the agreement GCA will not operate after finishing the current project until recommended measures are in place and permitted by the County. GCA is also responsible for designating an employee as a point of contact for the Air District if any equipment breakdowns occurred, and for hiring someone certified in visual air emissions inspections to monitor air pollution from the site.
At the Hearing Friends of Outlet Creek and members of the community spoke out strongly against allowing the plant to continue operations and against the absurdity, given its poor track record, of having GCA in charge of it's own pollution monitoring and mitigation. Kirk Lumpkin with Friends of Outlet Creek stated, "We are very disappointed that the plant's permit has not been revoked considering the serious public health impacts, the serious nature of the permit violations and ongoing investigations at the state level of Mercer-Fraser, who owns and operates the asphalt plant equipment."