Sonoma County mulls changes to controversial quarry project

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Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday revived one of their most controversial land-use debates, examining potential changes to a planned quarry west of Cotati that has been in the works for a decade and a half.

Quarry developer John Barella wants to alter some of the conditions the county imposed when it narrowly approved his project off Roblar Road eight years ago. The Board of Supervisors last year hired a consultant to study Barella’s proposed changes and is now considering a draft of the resulting environmental analysis.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered around a 1.6-mile stretch of Roblar Road that would be used hundreds of times daily by large trucks hauling aggregate from the quarry. Barella’s team says the original county requirement to widen the road to 40 feet proved unworkable and proposed constructing a road that’s 32 feet wide instead.

The proposal prompted safety concerns from some supervisors and community members, particularly since the road is used by cyclists.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the only current board member who was in office when the project was approved, called for further road improvements that would slow traffic and better accommodate bicycles.

“I’m hoping, as we move forward, that there are going to be some traffic calming considerations,” Zane said. “I think that’s really necessary, because cyclists will continue to use this route.”

Barella, the former owner of North Bay Construction, first proposed the quarry in 2003. County supervisors approved it on a 3-2 vote in 2010, with Zane as one of the dissenters.

Rural residents concerned about the project’s environmental impacts subsequently sued, triggering a long legal battle they lost in 2014 when a state appellate court upheld the county’s approval and reversed a lower court ruling.

The quarry site remains undeveloped as Barella has been trying to get county approval on his proposed changes, which continue to prompt concern from some people who live near the site.

“This is not a public project: It’s a moneymaking venture for Mr. Barella,” said Roblar Road resident Sue Buxton. She pressed supervisors Tuesday to require Barella to follow the original requirements and make the road safe for both cars and bicyclists, “no matter how much it costs him.”

Barella attended the hearing but did not address the board. He declined to comment afterward.

In addition to scaling down the road widening, Barella’s team has proposed changing the design of a road intersection the county has required him to improve.

Barella also wants to relocate a portion of Americano Creek that adjoins Roblar Road so the widening doesn’t encroach on riparian habitat.

Originally, Barella envisioned widening the road on the opposite side of the road from the creek, but he told the county he has been unable to purchase the necessary right-of-way from private landowners.

He now wants to widen the roadway adjacent to the creek and has proposed realigning the streambed so it’s further from the edge of the improved roadway. Habitat improvements would be made to the affected portion of the creek.

The county’s draft analysis found the proposed changes to the intersection and creek would not result in any new or worse environmental impacts than those supervisors already sought to alleviate.

The draft analysis did, however, recommend a different approach to the road widening, calling for more of the shoulders to be paved than what Barella had proposed.

Safety concerns remain paramount for some quarry critics.

Margaret Hanley, who lives near Roblar Road and uses it often, feared that, under the proposed width the county is now considering, quarry trucks would often need to use part of the opposite lane to pass bicyclists.

“It’s not a question of if but when a tragedy is going to strike on this road with the modifications to the considerations that he is asking for,” Hanley said.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose south county district includes the quarry site, said the county should study the current traffic speeds on the affected section of Roblar Road.

“It would be worth looking into, and it would be worth doing it now — before the road is widened,” Rabbitt said.

County officials will continue accepting written comments on the draft environmental analysis through Oct. 29. Staff members plan to bring a final report back for supervisors’ consideration at a later date.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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