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Judge rules quarry must be a better neighbor

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Beth Winegarner
News Pointer Editor
April 13, 2004

A Marin County judge has ordered county officials to take responsibility for overseeing and regulating activities at the San Rafael Rock Quarry.

During a court hearing last week, Judge John Sutro said that he did not wish to shut the quarry down for its violations and impacts on neighbors, but that he would monitor the county’s oversight to make sure it is keeping the operation in line.

“I think the judge clarified that he expects the quarry and the county to work together to ensure neighborhood compatibility,” said John Taylor, the attorney representing the quarry. “We’re prepared to work in the direction outlined by the court.”

Sutro has agreed to sign the decision he made in January, in which he limited quarry-related truck traffic on Point San Pedro Road to 250 trips, or 125 trucks, per day and only allow trucks in and out between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., and forbade workers from dumping excess and waste rock in the northwest part of the site.

At that time, he also gave the quarry six months to file an amended reclamation plan — its 1982 plan has been outdated for years — and comply with the new plan. According to quarry spokeswoman Aimi Dutra, that amendment will be delivered by the deadline of April 27.

“He made it very clear the county has been lacking severely in its oversight of the quarry,” said John Edgecomb, the attorney representing the San Pedro Road Coalition, a collective of quarry neighbors. “He expects all sides to go back to the county for an administrative process, both to update the reclamation plan and to revisit permit conditions. If the parties don’t like the outcome, they can come back to the judge and there will be a more full administrative record.”

The downside for neighbors, Edgecomb said, is that the judge’s decision “allows the quarry to continue mining the main pit as long as it is economically feasible. It’s disappointing, because we disagree with that holding.”

The quarry is also being sued by the county of Marin, the state of California, the San Pedro Road Coalition and neighbor Amanda Metcalf. The coalition is a group of residents who have worked, over the years, to bring the quarry’s violations to the attention of the county. The suits allege that the quarry is operating outside the confines of its 1982 reclamation plan and that its blasting, dust and truck traffic constitute a public nuisance.

The quarry first began operations in 1900 and has continued to be a major operation since. In 1972 the quarry’s owners, Basalt Mining Co., owned by Dillingham Corp., obtained a state mining permit, and in 1982 Basalt filed a reclamation plan with the county of Marin saying its resources would be exhausted by 1993. When the Dutra Group purchased the quarry in 1986, however, the owners discovered more rock.

In 1942, the land was zoned as M-2 (industrial), but with the reclamation plan in hand, in 1982 the county rezoned the land as Residential and Commercial Multiple Planned Development, allowing residences to be built in the neighborhood. The quarry was allowed to continue operations under the banner of a “legal non-conforming use.” As residents moved in, the county continued to trust that the quarry would shut down within a few years. Meanwhile, the quarry expanded its operations.

In addition, the nearby Peacock Gap neighborhood incorporated the quarry’s reclamation plan into its own plan, which was folded into the Marin County General Plan.

When the 1982 plan was accepted by the county, the Planning Department was directed to monitor quarry operations to ensure that work did not expand beyond the scope outlined in the plan, and that the property would be left in reclaimable condition. The quarry was to supply an annual topographic map of mining operations and a report to show its compliance. Three years before the anticipated end of the mine, clean-up operations were to begin. However, the operation has continued and intensified.

“We’re being thrust back onto the county,” Dutra said. “Our goal is to have an agreed-upon set of operation conditions that balances the needs of neighbors, our business and the industry our business serves. We’re trying to bring some balance.”

She added that the quarry is in full compliance with the operating restrictions imposed by Sutro in January.

Another trial, to determine whether the quarry constitutes a public nuisance, is scheduled to go to court in February 2005.

“[This week’s decision] will probably wind up with the judge again at some point,” Edgecomb said. “We’re looking to the county to do a thorough investigation of the impacts of the quarry on the neighbors.”

“The message is: he’s watching,” Dutra said. “The message to the county is: you’ve got to resolve these issues.”

This article originally appeared in the San Rafael/Terra Linda News Pointer.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 13, 2004 at 6:47 PM

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