Napa County supervisors wanted to finally bring the long-running Syar quarry expansion controversy to an end, but instead they apparently have simply heralded the beginning of a legal phase.
On Tuesday, the Board finalized a July 11 tentative decision that clears the way for a bigger quarry. It rejected appeals by Stop Syar Expansion and Skyline Park Citizens Association to overturn a prior Planning Commission approval of the project.
That marks a victory for Syar Industries, which has sought a quarry expansion for about eight years. But opponents aren’t giving up.
Kathy Felch of Stop Syar Expansion said after the meeting that the group will challenge the project’s required environmental impact report in court. Should it prevail, the expansion could be delayed or halted.
If the expansion goes forward, she and other critics want Syar to pay for air monitoring stations along the edge of the quarry. They say that would show if dust drifting from the site contains crystalline silica, which can damage the lungs.
“In my view, this is the cost of doing business,” Felch said.
To date, they’ve lost on that point, too, though the issue came up Tuesday.
The Syar quarry is located in rural hills east of the Kennedy Park and Highway 221. The Board gave Syar a 35-year permit to expand a 497-acre quarry by 106 acres and increase production from a million tons of rock annually to 1.3 million tons annually.
Syar officials say the expansion will keep the quarry from running out of basalt needed to build the area’s roads and infrastructure. They point to a county environmental impact report that says any negative effects can be rendered “less than significant.”
“We’re confident the project has been fully vetted,” Attorney Tom Adams told supervisors on behalf of Syar.
Critics see a bigger Syar as a noise-making, dust-raising, groundwater-depleting problem. In addition, they say blasting into a new hill will disturb the tranquility of a remote, adjacent section of 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park.
During the hearing, Supervisor Mark Luce broached the issue of air monitoring. He pointed to a condition of approval that requires computer modeling only to calculate whether Syar is meeting air quality standards.
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“It’s just like wastewater discharge,” Luce said. “We don’t calculate what mercury is in wastewater discharge, we measure it.”
County planner Don Barrella said air monitoring stations would capture not only dust from Syar, but also from nearby roads and agricultural operations. But Luce wasn’t satisfied.
“If you see dust flying everywhere and the calculation method says you’re below the limits, you’d kind of wonder what’s going on, ’ ” Luce said.
During public comments, Dan Mufson of Vision 2050 praised Luce’s line of questioning.
“That’s what we’ve been asking for,” Mufson said. “We believe there’s a public health hazard here, and we think there should be perimeter monitoring. It’s as simple as that.”
Barrella said the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has an air monitoring station at Napa Valley College near the Syar quarry. That will provide additional information on air quality in the area, such as if pollutants spike during quarry operations.
Luce proposed taking the approvals section calling for the computer model air quality calculations and adding the words “and supporting data.” The Board agreed.
But the “and supporting data” phrase proved too vague to satisfy quarry expansion opponents who want to ring the quarry with monitoring stations.
“What does that mean?” Mufson said.
He and others said the Bay Area Air Quality Management District monitoring station is not located in neighborhoods downwind from Syar. Nor would that type of monitoring station show if crystalline silica is a problem.
The Board of Supervisors held 11 hours of hearings on the Syar appeals over multiple meetings last spring and summer. Though supervisors have now rendered their verdict, the controversies continue.