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Appeals court sides with Napa County, allows Syar quarry expansion

Appeals court sides with Napa County, allows Syar quarry expansion

Syar quarry

This 2015 file photo shows layers of mining at Syar Industries, Inc. in the hills east of the city of Napa.

Napa County won another legal victory in one of the community’s longest-running, hardest-fought growth battles — and that means Syar quarry should be able to expand.

Syar Industries, Inc. proposed the controversial quarry expansion in the hills east of the city of Napa in 2008. The county approved a modified version of the project in 2016, prompting the community group Stop Syar Expansion to sue.

On March 25, the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a Napa County Superior Court decision in favor of the county. The court took 86 pages to explain its decision.

Stop Syar Expansion has the choice of appealing to the California Supreme Court.

“We’re still considering our options,” Kathy Felch, a member of Stop Syar Expansion who lives less than a mile from the quarry, said on Tuesday. “We’ll probably make a decision in the next week or so.”

Barring further appeals, Syar can expand its 497-acre quarry mining area in the hills near Napa State Hospital by 106 acres to remove basalt and other rocks. It can increase production from a million tons of rock annually to 1.3 million tons annually.

Syar officials have said a bigger quarry is needed to keep providing basalt for the region’s roads and other construction projects. Without the expansion, the quarry will run out of basalt to mine.

Opponents challenged the expansion on a variety of issues, such as whether dust from quarry blasting contains health-damaging respirable crystalline silica. They said blasting in the expanded quarry would disturb users of adjacent Skyline Wilderness Park.

This led to hours of county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings in packed meeting rooms with experts from both sides arguing their points. Stop Syar Expansion is a group that includes residents from nearby neighborhoods.

“We’re confident the project has been fully vetted,” Attorney Tom Adams told supervisors on behalf of Syar at the 2016 hearing.

For the appeal, Stop Syar Expansion focused on five issues. One was whether the project environmental impact report adequately addressed allowing mining on land designated by the county’s 2008 general plan for agriculture and open space.

The court found that the county’s public review addressed general plan consistency issues at length.

“And while (Stop Syar Expansion’s) perspective is that the project is ‘inconsistent’ with the county’s general plan, on this record, it was the prerogative of the county to conclude otherwise,” the court opinion said.

In another argument, Stop Syar Expansion said the county divided the quarry’s annual particulate emissions across 365 days, improperly diluting daily emissions because the quarry operates for only 250 days a year.

But the court said the county used a five-year averaged annualized approach, as opposed to the one-year, 250-day approach favored by Stop Syar Expansion.

“We cannot say that the five-year average annualized approach the county chose to use was bereft of explanation or not one a reasonable mind could accept,” the decision said.

Napa County in a statement Monday said only that it is pleased with the outcome in the appellate court.

Felch explained why Stop Syar Expansion is pursuing the matter so hard.

“Because we believe we’re right,” Felch said. “We believe (the expansion) is a danger to the community.”

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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