Traffic threat from Santa Barbara County mines remains to be seen
By Nao Braverman
Two new gravel mine expansion applications have Ojai Valley advocates concerned about an increase in truck traffic.
Those community members are fighting to protect the quality of local air, noise and safety, particularly because the valley’s tourist-based economy depends on it.
It has been an uphill battle. Stop the Trucks! Coalition has been battling two new gravel mine expansions, one by the Diamond Rock Mine in Santa Barbara County and another from the Ozena Valley Mine in Ventura County.
Now two additional Santa Barbara County mines have submitted applications.
The GPS mine, just north of the Diamond Rock Mine in Ventura County, is looking to move its operations a few miles west of their current northern Santa Barbara County location.
Though the operation is not expanding, and thus does not expect to increase truck trips through the Ojai Valley, according to Santa Barbara County’s supervising planner Gary Kaiser, the application will force the company to account for its traffic impacts.
Currently GPS has been sending trucks through Ojai with no restrictions at all, according to Kaiser. But likely after seeing the trouble that Ojai has caused for other sand and gravel mining companies, they are proposing not to send any trucks through Ojai, said Kaiser. It currently appears that they have enough business north of their location without delivering loads of material south through the valley on Highway 33, he said.
The other new Santa Barbara County sand and gravel mine, Richard’s Holding Company, has also proposed to begin excavating gravel in the northern Santa Barbara County area. But Santa Barbara County planners returned the company’s initial application because it was incomplete, said Kaiser. Since the company hasn’t yet begun their environmental impact report, Kaiser is not sure when planners will see their complete application.
As for the Diamond Rock Mine proposal which was approved in July by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission, it is currently awaiting comments from the State Department of Conservation, which should be due back very soon, according to Kaiser.
After that the project will return to Santa Barbara County commissioners to be re-evaluated with comments from the state department, and approved or rejected. That final decision will be appealable to the board of supervisors, he said.
The city can register its objections with the Board of Supervisors if the Planning Commission approves the project, said Ojai city manager Jere Kersnar. He is not sure what the Ojai City Council will decide to do if the Diamond Rock mine is approved by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission on its second hearing in January or February. But legally the city can do nothing until it has exhausted all its administrative remedies, he said.
Attorneys hired by the Stop the Trucks! Coalition have been negotiating with the attorneys representing the Diamond Rock Mine to work out some kind of understanding to keep the mine’s trucks from coming down Highway 33, said coalition member Michael Shapiro.
“As long as there is another alternative route, that is just 45 minutes longer, there is no reason they should approve the industrialization of our community’s main artery,” he said.
The Ozena Valley Mine recently withdrew its application and went back to the drawing board, asking for a compete environmental impact report from an independent consulting firm, according to Ventura County Planning officials. When that is completed it is expected to be resubmitted to the commission.
As soon any of the draft EIRs are circulated we plan on developing city comments, which we will bring back to the council, said Kersnar.
Kaiser confirmed that none of the Santa Barbara County mining companies had labeled their truck with placards to identify which mine they were coming from. That should be addressed in the EIRs for their proposed projects, he said.
Without identifying where the trucks are coming from there is no way of knowing which companies are creating the problems, said Kaiser. When the EIRs are complete and the problematic trucks and the companies they deliver for are identified, then enforcement can be discussed.
But since trucks are also able to take the longer route from Highway 126 to Highway 166, there is no reason why any gravel trucks should be allowed to travel through Ojai at all according to Shapiro.
Decisions about the city’s involvement will be made on a case by case basis as notifications of EIRs are circulated, according to Kersnar.