A tentative Napa County Superior Court ruling would send the controversial Syar quarry expansion approval back to Napa County government for further work, though the matter remains to be settled.
Judge Victoria Wood will hold a hearing Wednesday in light of her May 23 tentative ruling. That will be Napa County’s chance to try to change her mind and keep the ruling from becoming final. Quarry expansion opponents may try to convince her to adopt more of their points.
Wood tentatively ruled that the project’s environmental impact report doesn’t adequately address general plan consistency or the county’s choice for baseline quarry production data. But she declined to accept Stop Syar Expansion arguments on issues ranging from air quality mitigation measures to potential health impacts.
If the tentative ruling stands, the county would have to vacate project approval and environmental impact report certification and prepare a legally defensible environmental impact report addressing Wood’s points. That would mean more public hearings.
Syar quarry is in hills along Highway 221 in the southeastern part of the city of Napa and includes mining areas with names such as Snake Pit and State Gray Pit. Basalt and other rock mined from the hills is used to build the region’s roads and for other construction projects.
The Board of Supervisors in October 2016 approved expanding the quarry after certifying an environmental impact report totaling more than 1,600 pages. Supervisors agreed with the report’s conclusion that all concerns could — with mitigations — be reduced to a “less than significant” level.
Opponents said a bigger quarry raised such threats as respirable crystallized silica blowing into nearby neighborhoods, degraded air quality and depletion of groundwater. The group Stop Syar Expansion filed the court case.
Wood in her tentative ruling finds merit in two of Stop Syar Expansion’s claims. One is that the environmental impact report failed to adequately discuss inconsistencies with the county’s 2008 general plan that set the direction for the unincorporated county to 2030.
“That agricultural preservation is central to the Napa County general plan is beyond question,” Wood wrote.
The Syar expansion would mean mining basalt on land designated by the general plan as agricultural watershed/open space. The environmental impact report appears to contain no discussion on the apparent inconsistency between preserving agriculture and converting this land to mining, Wood wrote.
“To be clear, the (county) may be correct that the apparent inconsistency between the project and the general plan may be justified, or even illusory,” Wood wrote.
But that discussion is precisely what the state requires to be included in the environmental impact report, she wrote.
Wood also tentatively sided with Stop Syar Expansion on the issue of an air quality baseline. The county released its environmental impact report notice of preparation in 2009, but didn’t use 2009 quarry production levels for existing conditions.
Rather, the county used a five-year annual aggregate production level for the baseline. County legal officials argued that the 2009 production data is a “trade secret.” Wood wasn’t convinced.
“To be clear, the court does not here find that the data is not subject to trade secret protection and is not requiring its inclusion in the EIR,” Wood wrote. “Rather, the court finds that the county failed to provide adequate justification in the EIR for withholding such data.”
The Board of Supervisors in 2016 approved expanding the 497-acre quarry by 106 acres and increasing production from a million tons annually to 1.3 million tons annually for the next 35 years. Hearings lasted for about 15 hours, with dozens of speakers both pro and con.
Stop Syar Expansion includes residents who live in the Imola Avenue area near the quarry. They have long complained of such things as dust and noise from quarry blasting and expressed fear of the health effects of quarry dust.
Syar Industries officials said during the county hearings that the expansion is needed so the quarry has enough basalt, which is a key component of asphalt. No expansion would be the death knell for the quarry, one official said.
Officials with Stop Syar Expansion, Syar Industries and the Napa County Counsel’s office couldn’t be reached for a comment on Thursday.