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A new proposal would establish the equivalent of a no-mining force field to keep the Syar Industries quarry from ever expanding into Skyline Wilderness Park.

On Monday, Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District board members praised the idea presented by Board chairman David Finigan. They urged the county to seek creation of a 100-foot-wide conservation easement stripped of mining rights to separate the quarry and the park.

The goal is to draw a line in the rocky soils around Skyline that the quarry can never cross.

“I think we need to do everything we can with our district to try to prevent a state takeover and change of use at Skyline park,” Finigan said.

California isn’t proposing to turn Skyline into a quarry and Syar officials say they want Skyline to remain a park in perpetuity. Still, recent moves by the state have Skyline advocates worried.

Skyline Wilderness Park is 850 acres of hilly, oak-sprinkled land with trails southeast of the city of Napa behind Napa State Hospital. California owns the land and leases it to the county for a park. The 50-year lease expires in 2030.

In 2009, the county put a zoning overlay over the park designating the land for recreation or agriculture, just in case the state should ever sell it to a private party. Three weeks ago, the state Department of General Services filed an application with the county saying that this overlay “is a contravention” of the lease and must be removed.

In addition, a 2013 state Geological Survey report added part of Skyline park to its map showing potential aggregate resources in the Bay Area.

State Department of General Services spokesman Brian Ferguson said his agency wants to discuss with the county how the Skyline zoning overlay affects the property’s value. His agency has nothing to do with mining, he said.

But Skyline advocates worry the state might try to use Skyline for a quarry after the lease expires in 2030 or perhaps even sooner, given the claim that the zoning overlay violates the lease. All of this attracted the attention of the Regional Park and Open Space District board.

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is the state,” Board Member Tony Norris said.

The district board wants Syar to donate a 100-foot-wide easement extending along Syar’s common border with state lands. A public agency or nonprofit group chosen by the county would hold the easement. Then establishing a Skyline quarry would mean starting from scratch rather than merely extending the existing quarry, something the board views as being more challenging.

Syar is trying to expand its quarry, but not into Skyline park. The Regional Park and Open Space District board wants the county to make the 100-foot-wide conservation easement donation a condition for any expansion.

On Oct. 21, the Planning Commission tentatively approved the Syar quarry expansion with no mention of a 100-foot-wide conservation easement. But Regional Park and Open Space District board members expect expansion opponents will appeal the final decision to the county Board of Supervisors, allowing supervisors to add conditions.

Dorothy Glaros is president of Skyline Park Citizens Association, the nonprofit volunteer group that operates the park on behalf of the county. She said the proposed 100-foot-wide easement would be a step in the right direction.

Syar officials responded in an email message on Wednesday that Skyline park is an important community asset.

“Certain ideas like Commissioner Finigan’s take time to fully evaluate, but at first glance it does nothing to protect Skyline from development, such as houses or even vineyards and wineries,” the statement said. “The Park and Open Space District needs to focus on purchasing the park from the state. That’s the most important goal.”

Napa County in recent years tried unsuccessfully to buy the Skyline park land from the state. The 2010 state legislation that allowed for a possible deal expired last January.

Finigan wants his board to address this issue at a future meeting. It could urge the Board of Supervisors to seek new state legislation that would allow the county to purchase Skyline park.

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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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