The Marin County Board of Supervisors will decide whether proposed San Rafael Rock Quarry operating restrictions are sufficient to protect our community and the environment for the next generation. County staff's proposed conditions will help some nearby neighbors who have complained for years about noise, dust, trucks, vibrations and blasting from quarry operations. Requirements to tarp the trucks and enclose some of the noisiest operations are excellent. However, the proposal falls short because it fails to address and mitigate significant cancer risks and inherent incompatibility of an industrial mining operation in a residential and recreational area, and to devise an appropriate plan to reclaim the land.
The Point San Pedro Road Coalition has not called for the quarry's closure, but rather for sensible changes in the operating conditions and reclamation plan that will allow the quarry to continue their operations and be a good neighbor.
For decades, the quarry site was zoned "heavy industrial." In 1981, the area was rezoned as "residential commercial." The quarry became a "legal nonconforming use," permitting continued operations, but prohibiting any expansion. Quarry owners intended to close the quarry by the early 1990s. Consequently, planners granted permits for homes to be built in close proximity to the quarry. In 1986, the Dutra Group purchased the quarry and expanded operations. Complaints increased from Point San Pedro Road residents objecting to quarry noise, dust, trucks, and blasting.
In 2001, the coalition, some quarry neighbors, the California Attorney General, and Marin County jointly sued the quarry. In 2004, Marin Superior Court ruled the quarry had illegally expanded, must abide by interim operating conditions (including limits on truck trips and operating hours), and that Marin County must initiate an Environmental Impact Report and issue an amended reclamation plan.
The EIR, completed in 2009, found 15 significant environmental impacts, among them significant impacts that cannot be mitigated: Increased risk of cancer for residents in the vicinity of the quarry and Point San Pedro Road and incompatibility with residential and recreational land uses. The coalition contends that reasonable modifications in the permit, such as reducing the number of maximum truck trips to cut down noise and pollution and ceasing noisy quarry operations by 8 p.m. so children can sleep, will go a long way toward mitigating those impacts.
Instead of these mitigations, staff recommends that supervisors make a finding that economic and other considerations outweigh the health of the community and the incompatibility of an industrial operation in a residential area and contiguous with Marin County's popular park, McNear's Beach. Without providing any evidence, the quarry argues any reduction in daily truck trips and operating hours would render it economically unviable, leading to inevitable closure.
The proposed permit conditions include many improvements, but it falls short of meeting community concerns in several respects.
HOURS: Noisy barge loading would be permitted until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and half of all Fridays and Saturdays until 10 p.m. Quarry neighbors will be impacted by operations on all weeknights and most Saturdays if proposed hours are approved. The proposal does reduce some hours of operation, but permitting the quarry to operate until 10 p.m. in a residential setting where children go to bed at 8 p.m. is outrageous. Other quarries, located far from residences, are constrained to normal business hours.
TRUCKS: Trucks are a problem for those living on, or near, Point San Pedro Road. Empty trucks clang loudly, awakening residents in the early morning hours. Full, heavy trucks vibrate nearby homes, congest traffic, spew dust and diesel, and tear up the road. The permit must require effective mitigations including reducing the number of trucks, tarping all trucks, and re-surfacing Point San Pedro Road with sound-reducing asphalt.
The quarry boasts that they have reduced the number of truck trips. In reality, the reduction to 250 daily trips was court mandated in 2004 after the quarry unlawfully operated beyond the limits of its permit. The court imposed temporary conditions until the EIR and permit process were completed. The current proposal does not reduce the number of trucks at all from the unlivable 250 daily trips, which has generated ongoing complaints.
The economic downturn has reduced demand for quarry product, so the quarry has been relatively quiet, with a noticeable reduction in truck trips and citizen complaints. However, if the 250 daily truck trips are approved, residents will again be subjected to the same problems that resulted in hundreds of complaints even after interim operating conditions were instituted. The proposal appropriately allows for additional truck trips (and operating hours) during a declared emergency.
AIR QUALITY: Crystalline silica dust and diesel, both known carcinogens, are among the toxic emissions produced by quarry operations. The proposal requires air quality testing only for the next two years and when certain reclamation activities are conducted. Otherwise, air quality testing is left to the discretion of the county. The community needs further assurances that appropriate ongoing testing will occur in order to ensure public safety.
BLASTING: Residents whose homes are closest to the quarry suffer from blasting impacts similar to an earthquake. While the proposal includes some important improvements, measuring the blasts from the homes themselves, not just ground vibrations, must be included.
ONGOING RECLAMATION: The court found that the quarry illegally stored mining wastes in the northeast quadrant, the area closest to homes, and forbid it from conducting mining activities in that area. The proposal uses the NEQ as a mixing bowl, moving mining waste and soil back and forth from other parts of the quarry site, creating noise and dust for 10 summer weeks per year over the next 14 years. The quarry must clean up the NEQ in a less intrusive manner.
FINAL RECLAMATION: The proposal approves mining to a depth of 450 feet below sea level and flooding the bowl with bay water at the end of mining that would create a bottom dead zone requiring a mechanical mixing of the water in perpetuity. The costs, environmental impacts, and technical feasibility are all inadequately studied.