Controversial quarry up for vote
A map showing the site of a proposed quarry and processing plant by the Madera Ranchos. (Courtesy of No on Austin Quarry)
The five-member Madera County Planning Commission will discuss and vote on a hard rock mining and processing operation proposed between the Madera Ranchos and Millerton Lake at a public hearing Tuesday.
The special meeting has been set for 6 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers of the government center, 200 West Fourth St. The county’s planning division will present a report and recommendation on the project, and those who favor or oppose the project will speak. The commission will then vote on whether to approve conditional use permits and a variance as well as whether to certify a final environmental impact report.
If okayed, the proposed Austin Quarry would mine and process “aggregate” (crushed stone, sand and gravel used in construction work) in rural Madera County about 12 miles east of Madera and eight miles north of Fresno, according to a planning division report. That puts it just three miles east of the Bonadelle Ranchos-Madera Ranchos in an area zoned for agriculture.
Austin Quarry would employ between 15 to 40 workers and operate 24 hours a day to reduce electricity demand during peak demand times and offer early morning and night deliveries, the report said. This would result in 408 round trips daily by trucks, according to the county’s final environmental impact report released in June.
The Vulcan Materials Company-owned quarry, processing plant, entrance road and landscaped berms would occupy 348 acres of a 671-acre site for as long as 100 years, delving as deep as 400 feet. When the complex eventually shuts down, a reclamation plan would be followed to return the area to agricultural use including dry cattle grazing and wildlife habitat, the county said.
An eight-year-old Madera Oversight Coalition, an Oakhurst-based outreach and advocacy group, has campaigned against the project, which it claims will negatively impact the Madera Ranchos and Oakhurst. The coalition claims the project will raise constant dust and hurt air quality, lower the ranchos groundwater level by 350 feet, create significant noise, increase traffic from slow-moving 18-wheel trucks, and drop property values by 20 percent.
The coalition said 300 county residents had written the county letters expressing their concerns. In response to complaints, new Vulcan-funded highway lanes are planned in the area. Vulcan also said three hydrogeologists/hydrologists had reviewed the project and concluded it would not impact the area’s aquifer.
On its Austin Quarry website, Alabama-based Vulcan Materials touts its “commitment to the local community” and “sustainable practices.”
The company said it partners with several schools in Madera and Fresno counties, including Sierra View and Webster elementary schools and Minarets High School, by offering educational plant tours, classroom supplies, speakers, scholarships and more. The company also produced a “Sustainability Scorecard” report from 2008 to 2013. In its 2013 report, it reported small drops in emissions and overall fuel usage and fuel consumption. In 2013, it said it achieved a 98.1 percent compliance rate for environmental inspections.