By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sonoma County judge has struck down the approval for a controversial rock quarry west of Cotati, saying key parts of the environmental impact report were inadequate.
The final ruling, issued Thursday by Judge Elliot Daum, could derail the project by requiring the county and quarry developer John Barella to conduct a new environmental report, or overhaul large parts of the existing one.
Opponents of the 70-acre Roblar Road quarry, including neighbors and environmentalists, welcomed the decision, with one leading advocate, Petaluma environmentalist Bill Kortum, calling it “historic.”
“I’m ecstatic,” said Donna Spilman, a boardmember on Citizens Advocating for Roblar Rural Quality, the group that sued the county and Barella following the project’s approval, on a 3-2 vote, by the Board of Supervisors in late 2010.
Barella, his attorneys and county attorneys could not be reached Friday morning for comment.
The quarry, first proposed in 2003, is one in a long line of mining projects that have divided county residents in recent decades. Two previous quarry proposals by other applicants on the Roblar Road property were shelved in the late 1980s and early 1990s after they ran into opposition.
Barella’s project would produce about about 11 million cubic yards of construction-grade rock, worth about $60 million, over at least 20 years. Supporters say it would be a sustainable source of local aggregate and badly needed jobs.
But opponents argued the quarry’s impacts were not sufficiently studied or spelled out in the county’s environmental report.
Daum agreed with several of those core claims in his tentative ruling issued in late June. The 34-page final ruling this week mirrored that preliminary decision, using strong language in some instances.
Studies of possible water contamination linked to a long-closed landfill adjacent to the quarry were “utterly inadequate,” he wrote.
Neighbors and others are worried that blasting and mining at the quarry could unleash unknown contaminants in the old landfill, which was used in the 1950s and later in the 1970s to dump building waste from a 1969 earthquake that rocked Santa Rosa.
Daum also faulted an analysis of impacts on nearby Americano Creek from the proposed widening of Roblar Road, saying it had fallen far short of what’s required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
“Admitting that the project will have significant impacts is not a substitute for evidence and analysis regarding those impacts and the efficacy of mitigation measures chosen to lessen those impacts,” he wrote.
Daum also upheld two other claims of opponents related to Barella’s plans to replace wildlife habitat damaged by the quarry. County supervisors, in an equally controversial decision linked to the project in late 2010, authorized Barella’s use of adjacent county-protected ranchland for that purpose.
But the county failed to study the environmental impacts or effectiveness of those habitat offsets on that ranchland, Daum ruled.
The judge dismissed all other claims in the case, including concerns about traffic, noise and air quality impacts.
Still, opponents hailed the ruling as a victory, while saying they expect Barella to appeal.
“(Daum) clearly read the record carefully and agreed with CARRQ’s arguments,” Sue Buxton, the group’s president, said in a written statement. “Many local residents and county environmentalists have worked very hard for years to bring these issues to light.”
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.