The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors gave its unanimous blessing Tuesday to a mining operation that will extract up to 350,000 tons of gravel a year from a 6.5 mile stretch of the Russian River.
The move delighted supporters who see the project in the Alexander Valley as a boon to jobs and as a way to manage the river's erosive power.
But it infuriated environmentalists who questioned the validity of the science supporting the project as well as the county's rush to approve it six months after the release of a hefty environmental impact report.
"This just being shoved through," said Don McEnhill, executive director for Russian Riverkeeper, a conservation organization.
The group's figures show that the mining, which is called skimming because heavy equipment is used to scrape surface rock from the gravel bars, could take more gravel than the river replenishes, threatening habitat as well worsening erosion, he said.
But the supervisors gave high marks to Napa-based Syar Industries and its plans to extract gravel from 15 bars along the river. The mining would take rock from above the water line.
The supervisors praised Syar for running a gauntlet of local, state and federal regulators and for agreeing to a lengthy list of mitigations including planting 11 acres of vegetation.
"It's a win for the fish, it's a win for the river, and it's a win for agriculture and the economy," said Supervisor Paul Kelley, who led the round of praise for the project.
Under the proposal, which will be voted on formally in December, Syar will be able to mine up to four gravel bars a year from June 1 to Nov. 1 with only one bar to be mined at a time.
Maximum hours of operation will be from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. The permit will run for 15 years, five more than was previously allowed under county regulations, though the county will monitor the operation more closely than previously required.