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Sonoma County judge strikes down Roblar Road quarry OK


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.

A photo showing the proposed quarry off Roblar Road (SOURCE: Citizens Against Roblar Road Quarry)

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.

Argus-Courier map by Gary Newman

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 brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

11 Responses to “Sonoma County judge strikes down Roblar Road quarry OK”

  1. Jim Bennett says:

    Roads, natural gas, dams, air port, now a rock quarry.
    Seems like anything good for our economy or our cost of living and convenience gets the ka-bosh.

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  2. David Wells says:

    Wow, seems J.R. Has a problem with “hippies”. There is defiantly a patten showing in your rants. Your disdain for “hippies” shows a more probable disdain of yourself. Stop blaming others for your faults, you’ll be better off in the long run.

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  3. bill me says:

    Another reason for CEQA reform. Or for recall of Daum.

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  4. 20/20 vision says:

    Thank you Judge Daum for seeing the truth through the wispy smoke and cracked mirrors.

    “Supporters say it would be a sustainable source of local aggregate and badly needed jobs.”

    Anybody care to explain that to me?

    There is plenty of rock in Sonoma County. Most of the hills in the West County are solid rock. John Barella just doesn’t want to make money off of any of them… yet.

    Jobs? What jobs? The 10 people who would work there? Construction jobs? The absence of this place isn’t holding up any local construction.

    The truth is that there is no real need for this quarry.

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  5. Steveguy says:

    @ Joseph. Please post a link to your ‘knowledge’.

    The Yuba River tailings are close and ground up for that area. The gravel from here has ZERO impact from what I have heard. We will end up buying Yuba River rock instead of being ” sustainable”.

    What part of local ” sustainability ” do they not understand ? Oh, only rocks and wood from ” somewhere else”… Yes, somewhere else. I thought ‘buy local’ was in vogue from the pedestrian/transit/bicycles only crowd..

    Really, oh my. We are so bankrupt there is no hope, none. Zero. Sorry

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  6. Joseph says:

    Of course the plan for all this rock was to truck it to Bodega Bay and barge it to the delta for reinforcing the levies. They said they were drilling for water and were having a difficult time finding water, when actually they were surveying the rock. Funny how things work out.

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  7. Grey Whitmore says:

    Nature may not pay the bills, but it sure as heck with kill us of we don’t take care of it.

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  8. farmer west says:

    Sounds like great news. No more approvals needed. Due a few studies and let’s get some gravel for our roads.

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  9. Steveguy says:

    One man one vote ?

    Seems as that means no jobs. Or they didn’t pay off the SMART Board.

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  10. Terry says:

    Judges are not scientists and therefore must rely on the experts who studied the quarry in relation to the landfill. The science indicated no impact to the landfill, yet an activist judge ignores this to placate to NIMBY’s that abuse CEQA. All those that opposed this project should not be allowed to utilize roads, toilets, electricity, homes built on concrete foundations, or go to hospitals. All of these depend on rock…

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  11. J.R. Wirth says:

    Death by a thousand cuts. A couple jobs here, a couple there, until the whole state is a basket case, which it is.

    Nature doesn’t pay the bills, one day we’ll recognize that. Probably when we’re all eating squirrels and foraging for berries in the woods like animals. Damn hippies.

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