A state appellate court has handed quarry developer John Barella a resounding victory in his decade-long bid to build a controversial project off Roblar Road west of Cotati.
A three-judge panel has upheld Sonoma County’s 2010 approval of the 65-acre rock quarry and reversed a lower court ruling on all counts, dealing a final blow to opponents’ three-year fight to halt the project on environmental grounds.
Barella, the former owner of North Bay Construction, praised the decision while voicing frustration with the lengthy environmental review and court fight needed to clear the way for his $60 million project.
Planning for the project is set to start this week, and ground work on the site could get underway within a year, said Steve Butler, Barella’s attorney.
“I am happy, we’re moving forward on opening the quarry,” Barella said. “But this whole situation has been unfair.”
He called the lawsuit challenging the project “frivolous.”
Quarry opponents defended their case but said they do not plan to appeal the court decision, which they called a disappointment. They said they will continue to press Barella to address their concerns, including worries about risks to groundwater and impacts on traffic and wildlife.
“We feel this is a large loss for the Roblar community, and it will greatly harm the environmental quality of this area,” said Sue Buxton, president the citizen’s group that sued the county and Barella over the project.
The appellate ruling, made final July 18, ends one of Sonoma County’s longest-running land use battles, pitting Barella — who first proposed the quarry in 2003 — and his allies in the construction industry against dozens of neighbors, environmental groups and others opposed to the development. It was approved by the Board of Supervisors on a 3-2 vote that included two outgoing members in the majority — Mike Kerns and Paul Kelley — and was one of three contested projects greenlighted in late 2010 that were then challenged in court on environmental grounds.
All of those cases have now been dismissed or settled, and the other two projects — the Dutra Materials asphalt plant outside of Petaluma and a Syar Industries gravel mine on the Russian River outside of Geyserville — are moving forward.
The rulings have provided some welcome, if delayed, vindication for the developers and their supporters.
“It’s so tough to do business here, so we’re glad this got pushed through,” said Chris Snyder, a district representative for the Operating Engineers Local 3, speaking about the quarry. The union’s members include heavy equipment operators and construction workers.
Barella and his allies have touted the Roblar Road project as a sustainable source of local aggregate and badly needed jobs. Estimates included in the environmental review for the quarry show it would produce about 11 million cubic yards of construction-grade rock, worth about $60 million, over at least 20 years.
But neighbors were especially worried that blasting and mining at the quarry could unleash unknown contaminants in an adjacent former landfill, which was used in the 1950s and then in the 1970s to dump building waste from a 1969 earthquake that rocked Santa Rosa. Opponents argued such impacts were not sufficiently studied or spelled out in the county’s environmental report.