A legal attempt to block Napa County’s controversial approval of the Syar Industries quarry expansion could be dismissed by Napa County Superior Court at a scheduled Aug. 14 hearing.
Superior Court Judge Victoria Wood on May 23 issued a tentative ruling that on two points favored quarry expansion opponents. But her latest, June 25 ruling reverses those conclusions and proposes to deny the quarry expansion challenge.
“We think the court’s analysis is pristinely correct,” said attorney Navtej Dhillon, who represented Syar Industries as a party of interest in the lawsuit against Napa County.
Representatives from the quarry expansion opposition group and the county could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
At stake is the future of the quarry in the hills east of the city of Napa near Napa State Hospital. Syar officials say a bigger quarry is needed to keep mining basalt for the region’s roads and construction projects. Opponents have portrayed the quarry and its blasting activities as a noisy, dusty health hazard.
The Napa County Board of Supervisors on October 2016 approved allowing Syar Industries to expand its 407-acre quarry by 106 acres. Supervisors agreed with the thick environmental impact report that all impacts could, with mitigation, be rendered “less than significant.”
Opponents, many of them residents in nearby neighborhoods, sued Napa County under the name Stop Syar Expansion. The lawsuit claimed the environmental impact report is deficient in how it analyzed a bigger quarry’s effects on water, air quality, traffic and other issues.
Wood in her May 23 tentative ruling favored the county on most points. The exceptions were points involving county general plan consistency and the baseline used to measure air quality impacts.
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Having a bigger quarry mine basalt on land designated by the county general plan for agricultural watershed/open space could be inconsistent, that previous ruling said. The discussion should be in the environmental impact report.
“That agricultural preservation is central to the Napa County general plan is beyond question,” the ruling said.
But in her latest June 25 ruling, Wood no longer talks of remanding this matter back to the county for further work. Instead, she adopted an argument advanced by Dhillon that a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit is the wrong type of lawsuit for a general plan consistency challenge.
“As a result, petitioner’s arguments on this point are not properly before the court,” the latest ruling said.
The May 23 tentative ruling also questioned the county’s decision to use a five-year average of quarry operations from 2004-2008 to establish the baseline for air quality. The usual practice would be to use the year when the environmental impact report was noticed, in this case 2009, to establish existing conditions.
But the June 25 ruling finds evidence supporting the county’s decision to use the 2004-2008 average. Among them was the county’s explanation that quarry operations can be highly variable from year to year.
On other issues, Wood found the county’s approach in the environmental impact report to be defensible. She declined to choose among experts used by the county and opponents who reached different conclusions.
“You’ve got experts who disagree and the county relies on one and who am I to go in override that?” Wood said during a May 29 hearing.