Wild & Scenic Mokelumne Update

Foothill Focus Newsletter
photo of Mokelumne River
North Fork Mokelumne River below Salt Springs Dam
Foothill Focus Fall 2012
Controversial mine and industrial project outside Ione approved by county planners
The Newman Ridge and Edwin Center project is a controversial open-pit mine and hot-asphalt plant project proposed for the Ione Valley near Castle Oaks. Newman Ridge is a 475-foot-high, two-mile long ridge adjacent to working ranches and farms. The proposed mine at Newman Ridge would extract the ridge’s hard andesite rock and create aggregate and other building products, some of which would be incorporated into asphalt at the Edwin Center. The mine project is on the former Howard Ranch, once again known as Rancho Arroyo Seco, owned by Gold Rush developers Bill Bunce and John Telischak and partners.

The land is home to federally listed vernal pool species, Ione rare plants, bald and golden eagles and many other species of wildlife. It includes rare Valley oak riparian forest along Dry Creek, and oak woodland and savannah that support many species of birds and other wildlife. The site is also downwind from the City of Ione, with winds blowing from west to east nearly all year long.

The Amador County Planning Commission approved the full project in August after hearing from concerned neighbors who have organized as the Ione Land and Water Defense Alliance (LAWDA). Their effort is spearheaded by the family of local cattle rancher and retired World War II veteran, Col. Fraser West, whose ranch is adjacent to the Newman Ridge property. LAWDA and other neighbors are concerned about the potential impacts to local water supply and water quality, aesthetics, noise, levels, traffic, air quality and public health, among other issues.

State agencies also expressed serious concerns about the adequacy of the project’s environmental impact report (EIR), most notably CalTrans, which wrote a strongly worded letter regarding the project’s traffic impacts and inadequate traffic analysis. Other state agencies expressing concerns about the adequacy of the EIR and project-related environmental impacts included the California Dept. of Fish and Game and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Project proponents say the mine and asphalt plant will create a number of well-paying jobs in the county and much-needed revenue. However, as LAWDA pointed out at the hearing, another quarry proposal currently stalled in the county review process could create as many jobs – the expansion of the existing Jackson Valley Quarry, which does not have the same public health, land-use conflict, traffic, water or other issues as Newman Ridge/Edwin Center. LAWDA has also suggested that a better alternative for the Newman Center site is to create a large passive park with hiking, biking and equestrian trails, accessible from the Castle Oaks area.

At the planning commission hearing, LAWDA’s attorney, Doug Carstens, pointed out that the project EIR failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in a number of significant ways. In his detailed presentation, Carstens spoke to issue after issue. Regarding air quality, he said, “There are a number of letters pointing in the direction of the need for better analysis before you can make an informed decision. Air quality is just hugely important. The particulate matter is significant, the nitrogen oxide emission is significant. And there are health risks associated with that: decreased lung function, respiratory illnesses — these things were not laid out in the EIR or final EIR.”

In concluding his remarks, Carstens said, “What are you sacrificing for that (jobs)? You’re sacrificing the land, the air, the water, the health and welfare of the people here, some who have lived here for decades … We urge you to reject this project outright, because it’s not legally possible to approve it. It’s too harmful for the Ione Valley to be approved, so we’re urging you to vote no.”

Other speakers from the area, including neighbors Jim Scully, Col. West and West’s daughter Sondra Moore-West, gave detailed and impassioned testimony about the impacts the project would have on the Ione Valley, Ione and local residents. The Amador County Business Council and others spoke in support of the jobs and revenue the project says it will generate.

The concerns about the project and especially the adequacy of the EIR persuaded only one planning commissioner, Andy Byrne of Pine Grove, who voted against certification of the EIR. The other three commissioners present voted to approve the EIR and the full project as proposed.

The Amador County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the LAWDA appeal and Edwin Center North general plan amendment on Tuesday, October 9, at 10:30 a.m. For more information, see the planning section of the county website, www.co.amador.ca.us and LAWDA’s website, www.ionevalleylawda.com.

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