Opponents go to court to stop Willits asphalt plant
Published: Friday, May 11, 2012 at 5:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 11, 2012 at 5:17 p.m.
Opponents have gone to court to block a proposal to build an asphalt plant and quadruple the size of an existing rock quarry adjacent to the ranch where famed Depression-era racehorse Seabiscuit retired and is buried.
“We don't want to be known as the asphalt jungle meets the emerald triangle,” said Jack Magne, president of “Keep the Code,” which filed the lawsuit Friday afternoon in Mendocino County Superior Court.
Magne lives a few miles from the rock quarry, located on 600 acres along Highway 101 south of Willits. The property was once part of the Ridgewood Ranch, Seabiscuit's former stomping grounds. The remaining 5,000 acre ranch, owned by Christ's Church of the Golden Rule, includes a stud barn, a senior mobile home park and a charter school.
The ranch has become a tourist draw since Laura Hillenbrand's book, and a subsequent movie, renewed interest in the legendary racehorse.
The lawsuit claims the environmental impact report for the project, approved by the Board of Supervisors last month, is inadequate. It also challenges a county zoning change that allows asphalt plants to be added to existing quarries on rangeland. Supervisors unanimously approved both. A permit for the proposal from Northern Aggregates — owned by Frank and Judy Dutra — is to be considered next week by the county Planning Commission meeting.
Supervisor John Pinches said Friday he is dismayed by the lawsuit. “It's a great project,” he said.
The existing quarry is 11.5 acres. Under Northern Aggregates' proposal, it would be increased to 46 acres over the next 100 years. Mining operations would increase from a maximum of 75,000 cubic yards a year to 200,000. The expansion initially would require some blasting.
Opponents contend the expansion would create noise, water and air pollution and create traffic hazards. The proposal also is inconsistent with the county General Plan, they say.
Environmental studies failed to consider what would happen if asphalt plants are added to other gravel mines in the county, Magne said.
“This is affecting the entire county,” he said. It's not a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue.”
“Of course it's a NIMBY issue,” Pinches said. Two other gravel mines in the county would be eligible to add asphalt plants under the modified zoning ordinance, he said, and one is in Covelo, which is too remote for an asphalt plant.
He and other project proponents say the project is necessary to keep up with the demand for rock and asphalt in the county.
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