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Quarry Faces Legal Challenge

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Sonora, CA — Two groups upset about Tuolumne County’s handling of the Cooperstown Quarry project have filed a lawsuit.

They argue that Tuolumne County should have required a full Environmental Impact Report before granting the owners approval last month to begin operations at the 135 acre open pit mine. The lawsuit is aimed at both Tuolumne County and the Gardella Company, and was filed by the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (CSERC) and the Friends of the Mother Lode.

The Board of Supervisors has contended at past meetings that the project is in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as it did have a Mitigated Negative Declaration. The Supervisors felt there was not a need for an EIR, and the project was approved 5-0.

CSERC Executive Director John Buckley says the lawsuit is not about whether there should be an open-mine pit on the property, but the legal responsibility to conduct a full environmental review.

The lawsuit filed for the plaintiffs by attorney Andrew Grundman alleges that the project consultants adjusted its design so that planning documents show that it will only produce 99.73 tons of NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions each year. 100 tons would have ranked as a significant impact. The lawsuit also argues that the 99.73 number is based on erroneous math. Impacts of the project listed in the suit include air pollution, cutting down 900 oak trees, increased nighttime noise and traffic congestion caused by trains.

Tuolumne County Administrator Craig Pedro declined to comment this afternoon because he had just been notified of the legal challenge.  

The Friends of the Mother Lode was formed specifically in opposition of the quarry project. It is made up of Tuolumne and Stanislaus County residents. Group member Jerry Cadagan of Sonora hopes that a judge will agree that an EIR is needed. “The actions and words of our Supervisors demonstrate that they simply don’t like the California Environmental Quality Act and the EIRs that are required by the Act, and therefore they just chose to ignore the requirement of an EIR for a major project,” states Cadagan. “We are still a society of laws, and those laws must be followed whether everyone likes them or not.”

The Cooperstown Quarry is expected to create somewhere between 30-45 jobs. Upon hearing news of the lawsuit, Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO George Segarini said, “That’s disappointing because we’re trying to create jobs here in Tuolumne County. That project seems to have had a thorough investigation, and it’s unfortunate that this will probably delay the project.”

Last month the City of Riverbank announced its intention to file a similar lawsuit against Tuolumne County. The city feels an environmental review should analyze the impacts of additional train traffic that will result from having an operational rock quarry. Much of that traffic will run through the City of Riverbank.

The mine site is located off J-59 in the Bonds Flat area. Mining activity was expected to begin within the next couple of months.