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Bicyclists wary of Mark West Quarry expansion

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s tentative approval of an expansion for Mark West Quarry east of Santa Rosa has bicycling advocates and some county supervisors asking whether enough is being done to protect cyclists and others who use the quarry’s busy east-west haul route.

Trucks entering and exiting the century-old quarry off Porter Creek Road traverse the hills between Sonoma and Napa counties on narrow and busy roads that also double as an approved bicycle and pedestrian corridor.

Mark West Quarry. (PD File)

Mark West Quarry. (PD File)

The expansion could add 37 to 59 truck trips a day on those curving byways — an increase the county described as “substantial,” affecting Mark West Springs, Porter Creek and Petrified Forest roads — according to an environmental impact report.

But widening the roads’ shoulders, the county’s single best way to alleviate what it said could be an increased risk of collisions between quarry traffic and cyclists or those on foot, is not being required because the county has no plans or funding set aside to pick up its share of the costs, which could be more than $26 million for 5.5 miles of road.

The big price tag is a factor of the rugged landscape, with steep hillsides and creekbed hugging the roadway.

The quarry operator, BoDean Co. of Santa Rosa, balked at its $8.6 million share of the widening project, saying it would make the quarry expansion unfeasible.

The result is that, aside from BoDean’s $255,000 contribution to a future traffic signal at the intersection of Mark West Springs and Riebli roads, the county has required no other major traffic modifications as part the company’s 20-year permit to expand into an adjacent property.

That has some bicycling advocates seeing red.

The county doesn’t “have any right to put the public at risk for the profitability of one particular business,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

As is, Helfrich said, the area’s narrow roads are a hazard, failing to meet county standards for pavement width, sight distance and other safety measures.

“If you’re going to run more trucks on them, at least make them safe for somebody,” Helfrich said. “What’s the public benefit of giving them a pass? That’s what I don’t understand.”

BoDean general manager Bill Williams said the company is not getting a sweetheart deal. Over the next 20 years, it is set to pay a total of $2.1 million toward upkeep of roads on its hauling route through a 10.5-cent per ton fee the county charges to rock haulers.

“Part of safety is condition of the road,” Williams said.

Haulers who do business with the quarry also are subject to a “good neighbor” trucking program that monitors any complaints against drivers and penalizes or suspends those who’ve had offenses, Williams said.

Aside from a recent collision involving a passenger vehicle that crossed over the dividing line into a rock truck, Williams said he could not recall other serious collisions involving quarry traffic.

A county staff report said vehicle collisions along Mark West Springs and Porter Creek roads declined in the years before the permit application, from 32 collisions in 2001 to 23 in 2008.

BoDean first sought its expansion permit in 2003 before proposing the current project in 2009. It would move onto a 33-acre site immediately to the west, allowing the quarry to follow the harder rock it has been excavating since 1910. BoDean has operated the quarry since 1989.

The Board of Supervisors gave the project preliminary approval Tuesday, with a formal vote set for Dec. 10. The decision attracted little opposition, with worries about traffic and environmental impacts voiced only by a pair of neighbors. They included the operator of the nearby Petrified Forest, a private tourist attraction that features well-preserved redwoods and other fossilized trees that are more than 3 million years old.

Supervisors welcomed the quiet hearing, a contrast to bitter disputes over other quarry projects in the past. Many have been approved or expanded subject to costly habitat mitigation and road upgrades.

Supervisors expressed some concern that traffic improvements required for the Mark West Quarry were insufficient.

“We know we’re going to have some additional impacts of trucks on the road,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the area.

Supervisors discussed increasing the rock-hauling fee, which currently doesn’t apply to companies that import material from outside the county. Any change would need to be applied countywide and need extensive discussion, they agreed.

Gorin and other supervisors pressed county staff to go back to the drawing board on other traffic measures for the Mark West Quarry.

“We need to find something,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, an avid cyclist. “We can’t just say we can’t afford it and have no plans.”

Helfrich, the bike coalition director, conceded that aside from shoulder improvements and wholesale changes to truck routes or designated bicycle corridors, he saw few easy fixes. Still, he said his group, the county’s leading bicycle advocacy organization, hadn’t been brought in on the issue.

“They never consulted us,” Helfrich said of county planners.

The county also apparently dropped ideas put forward by its own bicycle and pedestrian safety committee four years ago in connection with the quarry project.

Steve Schmitz, the county transit planner who acts as the advisory committee’s staff person, said he submitted two ideas he thought were reasonable: a truck driver education program, focusing on the rights of bicyclists; and an expanded effort by BoDean to keep the shoulders on the hauling route clean of rock and other debris.

The advisory committee hasn’t weighed in on the project since making the suggestions. “After that, I don’t know what happened,” Schmitz said.

Sigrid Swedenborg, the county planner overseeing the project, said she would be circling back with cycling advocates to discuss their ideas.

Williams, the BoDean manager, said he would consider the ideas previously put forward by the bicycle and pedestrian committee and other proposals.

“We’re more than happy to look at anything that can be reasonably achieved,” he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)





17 Responses to “Bicyclists wary of Mark West Quarry expansion”

  1. Follower says:

    @ExRPeer
    GRAT IDEA!

    Maybe we can have Kathleen Sebelius administer the Safety Program and hire some more IRS agents to collect the tax. .. I mean “fine. …NO WAIT, yeah… it’s a “TAX”!

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  2. The Hammer says:

    Couldn’t read the entire article. Just hate those bike babies. Let’s make them bike babies shell out some bucks to use our roads that we paid for.

    Beginning to hate everyone I see on a bike.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  3. Paulo says:

    If some of you tried wearing spandex on a warm California afternoon and tried riding you bike in the middle of the street you would think differently about the under represented honest, law abiding bike riders who try to just enjoy the wind in their faces and keeping their chains on the sprocket.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  4. steve humphrey says:

    @MOCKINGBIRD

    There’s more expense to providing bike lanes than repaving roads. We need to talk about the roads that have to be widened to accomodate bicycle traffic, as well as the paint striping and signage. Giving bicyclists a free pass to roadways wouldn’t be such a bitter pill if the rest of us didn’t have to bow down to their constant demands.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    GAJ, I did read the article. This company is paying but not all companies running big rigs and full loads on our county country roads are. Just saying if they wreck it they should pay for it. Bicycles don’t wreck the roads and they can still ride even the worst roads if they get a mountain bike. Saying they need to be taxed is just stupid.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 10

  6. James Bennett says:

    If you’ve never seen the;
    ‘If I wanted America to fail’ video…
    it’s awesome.
    It describes UN Agenda 21.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ-4gnNz0vc

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  7. James Bennett says:

    Let me see…
    if I wanted to sabotage the N Bay economy, how would I do it?

    Well, I’d keep Hwy. 101 as congested as possible.
    I’d create an anti-business, anti-property rights environment.
    I’d impose all manner of shenanigans with energy and water use.
    I’d mess with the timber, construction industry.
    Quarrys mean roads, wouldn’t want that.
    I’d undermine automobile use however possible…

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  8. GAJ says:

    @Mockingbird, I guess you didn’t read the article.

    They are paying a bit more than $100,000/year in extra road fees and $255,000 for a traffic light at Riebli Road.

    Never mind that the rock they are pulling out is used for road construction.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  9. ExRPeer says:

    Simple fix. Lower the speed limit to 25 mph, mandate a bike rider safety program and tax the bikes and riders.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  10. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    There is a big difference between a big truck with a full load and a bicycle on our country roads. The bicycle does not wear away or pit the road. The trucks cause a huge amount of wear and tear on our country roads. Even more when they are fully loaded. So businesses should pay their fair share for the potholes they create. Most of our country roads are not designed for these super heavy trucks.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 14

  11. steve humphrey says:

    Helfrich said. “What’s the public benefit of giving them a pass? That’s what I don’t understand.”

    Bicyclist have been given a “pass” on every street/hiway improvement neccesary to accomodate peddlers since the beggining of time.
    When is the public going to start charging bicyclists for their share of these improvements?

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  12. Follower says:

    It just blows my mind sometime to see how people ride their bikes on public roads.
    I grew up riding my bike through the miles & miles of twisty, winding country roads of Sonoma County and nobody had to tell me to…

    cross to the other side of the road when you hear a car coming.
    Ride AGAINST the traffic so you can make eye contact with the “driver” hurling 2000lbs of steel in your direction.
    Wear bright colors so they can see you. WALK your bike through a heavily congested area.

    I could go on but anyone with even the slightest grip on common sense can see the method behind the madness.

    Sometimes I have to wonder are bike riders REALLY THAT stupid?
    Are they just looking for the next adrenaline fix as they narrowly escape death?

    Or is this just a case of the sheeple mindlessly obeying the “rules” completely devoid of any ability to think for themselves?

    Passing laws to protect bike riders from their own stupidity is interfering with Natural Selection and polluting the gene pool.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 3

  13. DON says:

    This is the way the libs on the local councils and BOS get their way. They call there buddies at the Bike Coalition and have them raise a stink! I have watched this happen in Windsor(Fudge) and RP(MacKenzie)for years. Can we do anything for business that will help them succeed and stay in business. If we don’t get the gravel from that quarry it will come from lake county over the same roads. Will they put in toll gates to charge the trucks from out of this area. What about the extra diesel that it takes to truck it in?

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

  14. John Bly says:

    Let’s call it like it is please. The quarry is paying towards our road maintenance now-no free pass. The bikers (of which I am one) are not paying fees that go to paving our roads.

    The “free pass” is being granted to the bikers. Just say in’

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  15. GAJ says:

    Can you believe this narrow, bumpy road with no shoulder and very poor sightlines has been designated a “pedestrian corridor” by the powers that be?

    Have they lost their collective minds?

    You’d have to be suicidal to treat this road as a pedestrian corridor…and you’d have to be equally stupid to ride your bicycle there.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 2

  16. Papa ESoCo says:

    Oh, here we go again, bicyclists telling the rest of us how things are going to be. Have no idea how such a small percentage of the overall population has more power, politically, than the rest of us. Yes, these are now, and always have been, narrow mountain roads; live with it, and ride carefully and defensively. It is not the job of the rest of us to keep you safe. Observing the rules of the road will go a long way to improving your biking experience. Taxpayers are not going to foot the bill to expand the roads; hell, taxpayers are paying for LOUSY ROADS, and the BOS does not care about maintaining them; ha, just wait until most of the country roads are allowed to deteriorate into gravel. Gravel roas are a lot of fun to bike on.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 2

  17. Road Advocate says:

    “…Giving them a pass…”. You’ve got to be kidding. How is paying $2m and having a trucking safety program a pass? It’s getting to the point where I am as shamed that I’m a bike rider. Let’s fix our roads. We need this quarry!

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 2

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