News! July 1 - LAWDA focuses on Environmental lawsuit Appeal
The Ione Valley Land, Air & Water Alliance is a grass-roots group challenging the Newman Ridge Quarry, a 278-acre fifty-year mine, and Edwin Center North, a 114-acre hot-batch asphalt plant, both planned to be just one mile from the town of Ione. These changes would forever alter the local landscape and rural quality of life by altering zoning from agriculture to zoning that would open the door to unimpeded and super-polluting heavy industry.
The Sierra Fund (sierrafund.org) took interest in LAWDA’s fight as a case study to shed light on the limitations of current mining law in California, specifically the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. The Sierra Fund sees this court case as a legal gray area that must be explicitly addressed: “This is a glaring example of the ineffectiveness of mining law in California, which The Sierra Fund is determined to reform,” says Izzy Martin, CEO of TSF. “Currently, the mining industry can challenge a reclamation plan they find too demanding, and we the people should be afforded that same right when the reclamation plan is not protective enough.”
The area in question is a 500-foot high, two-square-mile ridge that cradles the Ione Valley, dotted with hundreds of 250-year-old heritage oaks and home to more than 280 species of flora and fauna, some of which are threatened or endangered. This ridge would become a huge pit if the proposed mine is constructed. It is literally in all of our backyards and threatens my family’s ranch, as well as 23 other family ranches, most of which have been passed down for generations. The land the county has given unfettered permission to mine is currently pristine and untouched, and the result would be an industrial wasteland.
The project’s vague business proposition is as lacking as the environmental study. The developer has not developed or presented a business or hiring plan. The job numbers vary day by day and are completely unsubstantiated by any documentation. The reclamation plan, which would not be enacted for 50 years, lacks concrete facts and financial assurances. Jackson Valley Quarry is just four miles away. It is currently fulfilling all needs, including new jobs, and it has passed a proper environmental impact review. The review for Newman Ridge, written and funded by the developers, is fatally flawed, and ignores the issues that a hot batch asphalt plant would create so near a small town. because prevailing winds will blow toxins directly into Ione. This represents a clear danger to public health. The quarry would create toxic dust and noise, and would also violate existing and new groundwater laws. LAWDA has the support of a thousands of Amador community members who are concerned about a degraded quality of life and the countless environmental effects of the proposed industrial sites.
In addition to the air and water impacts, increased traffic from asphalt and gravel trucks would pose safety issues as industrial vehicles try to navigate two-lane roads with 90-degree turns through the tiny rural town of Ione. The quarry and asphalt plant would necessitate pumping 100 million gallons of water per year from local aquifers in an already drought-stricken region, and would emit over 100 tons per year of nitrous oxides and 150 tons a year of particulate matter, vastly degrading the regional air quality.
County citizens are not the only ones concerned with these impacts. The Central Valley Water Quality Control Board, the state Office of Mine Reclamation, the California Department of Transportation and the Department of Fish and Wildlife have all submitted letters urging Amador County to deny the plans for both the quarry and the asphalt plant.
Despite these warnings, the Amador County Board of Supervisors has repeatedly backed the investor, San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management – founded by Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer - and developers William Bunce and John Telischak - by supporting the project. In November, 2012, the BOS approved the plan for the quarry and asphalt plant with a 4–0 vote, leading LAWDA to file a lawsuit citing the project’s failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. After two years in the Amador County Superior Court, the decision sided with LAWDA and the court issued a Writ of Mandate decertifying the county’s approval of the Environmental Impact Report for the project. Again in 2015, the BOS approved the project, even after acknowledging that the plan would cause permanent and significant environmental impacts. LAWDA challenged this second decision by creating a referendum against the General Plan amendment, a zoning change from residential/ agriculture to heavy industrial, and the mine’s reclamation plan.
The referendum was met with a wave of support from Amador County citizens, more than 2,000 of whom signed on in just 17 days, nearly twice the number of signatures of registered voters needed. In June, 2015, the County Registrar validated and certified LAWDA’s referendum, activating one of two options for the Board of Supervisors: the board could reverse its approval of the project; or the board could place the project on the ballot for voters to decide.
Instead, with help from the dozens of lawyers provided by the wealthy developers, the county sued LAWDA and me by name, citing a technicality that called into question the legal right of citizens to challenge a reclamation plan with a referendum. Never before has a citizen group referendized a reclamation plan, thus no legal precedent existed to inform the court’s decision. Surprisingly, the court ruled against LAWDA, rendering the referendum invalid.
LAWDA immediately filed an appeal to this ruling, but on April 19, 2016, Governor Brown signed into law two significant pieces of legislation aimed at improving enforcement of California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. The governor signed SB 209 (Pavley) and AB 1142 (Gray) which together represent significant reform to SMARA, making numerous changes to the state surface mining provisions regarding reclamation plans, financial assurances, annual inspections and enforcement. When Gov. Brown signed those two bills into law, one significant change was the guidelines around reclamation plans, including the public’s right to be involved.
There is more work to be done on SMARA, of course, but since the new laws now give the public a better voice – which is what we intended on our referendum - we have decided to focus solely on the CEQA case, which cites the negative environmental impacts that the asphalt plant and the Newman Ridge quarry plan would cause to everyone in and around the Ione Valley. We continue to be very concerned about how this would affect every local resident and family, the ranches and farms who could lose their clean air and available water. Reading the developer’s own documents, we can’t ignore that this single project would cause massive truck traffic in and around Ione, all the while denying the public’s right to good health and clean future businesses. These issues and hundreds of letters were completely ignored by the developer and the county supervisors. We will continue to fight these projects with our CEQA lawsuit, using the appeal process. We believe we will find justice, now that our case is outside Amador County.
- Sondra West-Moore, Ione Valley Land, Air & Water Defense Alliance
LAWDA's fight on the Radio
Wednesday, March 9th, 2016, on Everywoman's Hour on KQBM from noon to 1:00 pm at www.kqbm.org live stream, Sondra West-Moore, the co-founder of the Ione Valley Land, Air & Water Defense Alliance (LAWDA), and host Kat Everitt discuss why the grass roots group of many concerned residents are fighting to stop the Newman Ridge strip mine Quarry and Edwin Center North hot batch Asphalt Plant from being approved in Amador County, what the agricultural and wildlife land is like today, and why thousands of local people agree it should not be approved.
The show will be repeated on Saturday, March 12th, from 9:00 am to 10:00 am and archived for future listening.
June 9th, 2015
The Referendum Against a Resolution, Ordinance and Reclamation Plan passed by the Amador County Board of Supervisors (to rezone Agricultural land to Heavy Industry and approve the Edwin Center North Asphalt Plant and Newman Ridge Quarry) has been Certified by the Amador County Election Supervisor and County Recorder! What does this mean?
We turned in 2303 signatures, gathered in just seventeen days. We needed 1287 validated (verified) signatures of registered Amador County voters to qualify this to go on a live ballot next year for the Citizens to Decide. The Elections team have counted and certified that our process and the signatures are valid, and we reached our qualifying number with plenty to spare!
Amador County Board of Supervisors that approved the Newman Ridge project have just two legal choices:
1) revoke and overturn their March 24th, 2015 approval, or
2) this will go on a ballot for the People of Amador County to Decide if they want this Asphalt plant and massive Quarry, with all the associated environmental, traffic, water, air and health issues, just outside of the City of Ione.
April 21, 2015
Tom Steyer’s Farallon Capital Management challenged again by local California Ranchers, Farmers and Homeowners over strip mining, asphalt toxins, water and traffic
IONE, Calif. --San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management, whose founder Tom Steyer now embraces a prominent environmental activist role, has been successfully challenged again by registered voters in California’s Amador County to thwart proposed construction of a strip mine quarry and an asphalt plant on the historic Charles Howard ranch. The developers’ plans for the 50-Year quarry and asphalt plant require the re-zoning of agricultural and residential land to allow heavy mining industry and asphalt processing one mile from the town of Ione, in close proximity to more than 30 neighboring ranches in the Ione Valley. Even while admitting that the plan will cause permanent and significant environmental impacts, Amador County supervisors in March approved the developers’ proposals, disregarding hundreds of documented local citizen objections along with heavy objections from state agencies including Caltrans, the California Farm Bureau Federation, Central Valley Water Board, and Fish and Wildlife.
In response, members of Ione Valley Land Air and Water Defense Alliance (Ione Valley LAWDA, LLC) today turned in more than 2300 registered voter signatures– almost double the required number needed - to Amador County officials. The signatures are in support of a referendum that will require the Board of Supervisors to either revoke the controversial and unpopular approval of the Newman Ridge Quarry and Edwin Center North Asphalt Plant or to put it on the ballot for the people of Amador County to weigh in. Such a public vote would most likely take place in June 2016 unless the County holds an expensive-to-voters special election.
One key peril of the plan is the extreme water demands by the quarry and plant in light of the depletion of local underground aquifers critically needed for ranching and farming especially in the face of the devastating statewide drought. The project calls for pumping as much as 300 to 400 acre-feet of groundwater per year from local aquifers. One acre foot of water equates to 325,945 gallons of water, which is enough to sustain one to two regular households for a year. The project will thus deplete the immediate area of roughly 100 million gallons of local water per year in an area already suffering from the four- year drought.
Other crucial objections to the County approvals and the developers’ plan include the permanent destruction of a 500-foot high ridge, a wildlife-rich and pristine area measuring 2 square miles. In addition, placement of the asphalt plant one mile from the city of Ione -- and even closer to neighboring ranches -- has raised concerns from the local population, as air pollution from the projects will exceed 100 tons per year of quarry dust and concentrations of Toxic Air Contaminants, known to cause cancer and serious respiratory illness.
The described traffic impact on the city of Ione is almost unimaginable, as the current County Supervisors’ approved plan includes routing up to 1,380 vehicles, asphalt and gravel trucks daily through the town’s Main Street, a four-block area including two 90-degree turns, that is heavily traveled on foot by schoolchildren and locals.
Despite the clear public impacts, the developers, William “Bill” Bunce and John Telischak, backed by Steyer’s hedge fund Farallon Capital Management and the County have refused to mitigate on these and dozens more environmental issues presented by citizens trying to protect their community.
The County also rejected a proposed Alternative: an Open Space Nature Park with hiking, biking and equestrian trails which would be combined with agricultural conservation to protect the current grassland grazing. This alternative would preserve the natural resources of the ranchland, which currently hosts over 200 species of flora and fauna, some threatened or endangered. The Nature Park could attract needed green revenue and jobs for the County. The County also rejected the option of considering an existing 60-year old quarry -- which is situated outside the wind areas for the City and ranches of Ione --- as a logical Project Alternative; in operation for decades, the present quarry is currently environmentally approved to fulfill both current and future need for materials and jobs.
In addition to the referendum, the Ione Valley LAWDA today also filed a new lawsuit in Amador County Superior Court to challenge the County’s quarry and asphalt plant approval. The lawsuit, which calls out the developers and investors by name, focuses on the County’s failure to protect the local water supply and to consider traffic impacts created by the project, as required by California law.
This is not the first time that the court will be hearing complaints about the County’s and developers’ lack of environmental candor. In fact, on April 30, 2014 the Amador County Superior Court issued a” Writ of Mandate” instructing the decertification of the projects’ previously County approved Environmental Impact Report. The mandate forced the County Board of Supervisors to return the zoning of the land to its original agriculture and residential status. The court’s ruling came at the end of a 35-month battle led by Ione Valley LAWDA and a consortium of citizens who proved that the quarry and asphalt plant projects would violate California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) law. Specifically, the court found that the developers hid critical impacts to the environment from the local public most affected by those impacts. The March 2015 County re-approval of the projects by the Board of Supervisors prompted Ione Valley LAWDA to kick into action again to resume their defense of Ione, the valley’s ranches and farms, and natural resources.
The Ione Valley Land, Air & Water Defense Alliance, LLC (Ione Valley LAWDA - www.ionevalleylawda.com) was founded by a group of concerned local ranchers, farmers and homeowners in nearby Ione specifically to protect the agriculture – chiefly cattle grazing and farming, ground water, rural roads, air quality, opens space and rural way of life in the community and surrounding areas of Amador County.
“Tom Steyer’s Farallon Capital Management, the developers and our County Supervisors have never explored any of the alternatives or the revenues that open space preservation could provide to the local economy. This land is less than an hour from Sacramento, and would be a fantastic destination to help build tourism. We hope the developers will partner with one of the interested large conservation groups to permanently protect this important ranch. We will not let them turn it into an industrial wasteland.” said Sondra West-Moore, co-founder of the group with her late father, Col. Fraser E. West (USMC Retired). Their family cattle ranch is close to the both the asphalt plant and quarry mine sites.
The project is the largest among a number of environmentally questionable activities that the Farallon Capital Management-backed developers, including Telischak of Belvedere and Bunce of El Dorado Hills, have tried to push through local county government despite signatures and opposition from county residents and thousands throughout California and abroad (see “No on Newman Ridge” petition - http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/no-on-newman-ridge-quarry).
Notes for Editors:
Additional information available: documents, pictures, interviews, videos
Sondra West-Moore, Co-Founder
Ione Valley Land, Air & Water Defense Alliance LLC
Email: email@example.com or ionevalleylawda.com
Douglas P. Carstens
CHATTEN-BROWN & CARSTENS
Tel: 310-798-2400310-798-2400 x 1
The Ione Valley LAWDA, LLC is endorsed and supported by Defense of Place which works nationwide to protect lands threatened by predatory development and changes in use. Defense of Place is a project of the Resource Renewal Institute, headed by Huey Johnson, founder of Trust for Public Land
Tom Steyer’s Farallon Capital Management loses Environmental lawsuit to local ranchers
Ione, California, June 10th, 2014
San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management, founded by billionaire Tom Steyer, has been sued successfully by a group of local ranchers in Amador County, California to stop a proposed strip mine quarry and asphalt plant from being built on the historic Charles Howard ranch. Howard was the owner of the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit. The plans for the quarry would have rezoned agriculture and residential land to allow heavy mining industry and asphalt processing, and would have permanently destroyed the rural area, including routing dozens of large asphalt trucks daily down Main Street of the tiny four -block town of Ione, California.
On April 30, 2014 Amador County Superior Court issued a Writ of Mandate decertifying the previously approved Environmental Impact Report and forcing the County Board of Supervisors to return the zoning of the land to its original agriculture and residential status. The 27-month battle against the quarry and asphalt plant was based on how the project would violate California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) law, and specifically how the developers hid critical impacts to the environment from the local public most affected by those impacts.
The Ione Valley Land, Air& Water Defense Alliance, LLC (Ione Valley LAWDA - www.ionevalleylawda.com) was founded by a group of local ranchers specifically to protect the air, water, and land in the area, and is very pleased to have won. “It truly is a David and Goliath story, with our community as the underdog,” said Sondra West-Moore, Co-Founder of the group with her father, Col. Fraser E. West (USMC Retired) who owns a ranch close to the now defunct planned quarry site. “On our day in court, it was kind of like an old-time Western showdown, with the quiet locals facing off against the out-of-town invaders. Our side of the courtroom was packed with ranchers and farmers, complete with boots and hats, humble folks, nothing fancy. On their side…not one local person, just rows and rows of lawyers in suits.”
The project was the largest one of a number of environmentally questionable activities that the developers, which include John Telischak of Belvedere and William Bunce of El Dorado Hills, have tried to push through local county government, despite signatures and opposition from county locals and thousands throughout the State and abroad (see “No on Newman Ridge” petition - http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/no-on-newman-ridge-quarry )
The plan was to strip-mine an untouched 500 foot ridge on the remaining 11,000 acres of the Howard Ranch, which provides 360-degree views of rolling grasslands and Sierra foothills, full of 200 year-old oaks and rare plants. Wildlife is profuse: Bald and golden eagles, bobcats, migrating Canadian geese, deer, white egrets and blue herons, wild turkeys, Swainson’s hawks, rare frogs and salamanders, raccoons and badgers populate the untouched environment. West-Moore notes: “Farallon and the developers never explored the alternatives and revenues open space preservation could provide to the local economy. This land is less than an hour from Sacramento and would be a fantastic destination to help local tourism. We hope the developers will partner with one of the large conservation groups to permanently protect this important ranch. We couldn’t let them turn it into an industrial wasteland.”
The developers have not appealed the Superior Court decision, and the timing to do so has passed. The investors have not commented on this situation, even though their founder, Tom Steyer, is in the news daily, spending millions to back pro-environmentally friendly causes such as opposition to the Keystone pipeline.
Ione Valley LAWDA, LLC
Office: 209-274-9917 or 818 681-4182
Douglas P. Carstens
CHATTEN-BROWN & CARSTENS
Tel: 310-798-2400310-798-2400 x 1
Rancher, 94, sues to block quarry project near his property
By Sam Stanton, Sunday February 17th, 2013
Forty years ago, Fraser West pulled onto Dutschke Road outside Ione and drove less than a mile before he found his destiny. Stretching out below him, West could see the 40-acre ranch he would snap up in 1973, a wide-open swath of grassland and heritage oaks where he has raised generations of longhorn cattle and horses with Teddy, his wife of 68 years, and his son, Bill.
"Boy, when I drove over that hill I said, 'This is it,'" West said on a recent sunny morning.
Today, decades later, he enjoys much the same view. From his front yard, he can gaze upon the snow-draped Sierra Nevada to the east and, to the south, Newman Ridge, the oak-studded hill that rises directly behind his home.
For the retired Marine colonel, who was wounded fighting on Guam during World War II and next month turns 95, the ranch has been a paradise of sorts.
Now, it is his Alamo.
Excuse me, but where is the General Plan update?
Amador Ledger Dispatch, Sept 14, 2012
The Amador Ledger, on Aug. 31, published an article about the Newman Ridge Project EIR, which was approved by the Planning Commission, despite serious flaws in documentation and potential mineral and industrial uses that would require changes to the General Plan. I presume that we are still dealing with the outdated General Plan. This leads me revisit the supposed General Plan update. That process began in July 2006 and was projected to be concluded by June 2009.
.... What strength and impact do general plans have if their land use designations can be overridden? The proposed zoning change for the Edwin Center North site would convert land currently designated as “single family residential-agricultural” to “industrial.” The heavy industrial use required for a noisy, air polluting asphaltic concrete plant will not be an improvement to the county. Let’s get on with the planning process and stop making exceptions.
Group sues over quarry - Amador County approved project that would mine ridge for 50 years
By Dana M. Nichols, Stockton Record Staff Writer, December 01, 2012
IONE - At 94, Fraser West refers to himself as "an old cowboy."
Old enough that he's cut back. The Texas longhorns grazing outside his home number in the dozens now, rather than the hundreds he once ran. But he says he's not ready to cut back on clean air, quiet or beauty. That's why he's part of the Ione Valley Land, Air, and Water Defense Alliance, a group that's suing to overturn Amador County's approval of a quarry that over the next 50 years would mine and crush a 250-foot-tall ridge just south of his ranch.
"We don't want a quarry. We don't want an asphalt plant on the highway," West said, referring to another component of the Newman Ridge project a mile north of his ranch on Highway 104......
Not in our backyards - 94 year old decorated Veteran leads charge for neighboring ranchers, files Environmental lawsuit against Amador County, developers and Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm to stop new Strip Mine and Asphalt Plant
Ione, California, Nov 7, 2012: A lawsuit has been filed against Amador County, developers and a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, citing California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) violations over the planned construction of a new strip mine and hot asphalt plant in close proximity to ranches and homes in the rural county. The Ione Valley Land, Air& Water Defense Alliance LLC (Ione Valley LAWDA – www.ionevalleylawda.com) was founded by 94-year old Col. Fraser West, a decorated WWII US Marines Corps veteran, cowboy and rancher, and his daughter Sondra West-Moore. The project in question, Newman Ridge Quarry and Edwin Center North Asphalt plant, is backed by William “Bill” Bunce of Newman Minerals, his partner John Telischak and San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management.
The project is one of a number of environmentally questionable activities that the developer is seeking to push through local county government, despite opposition from locals as well as international attention. The LAWDA lawsuit seeks to overturn the Amador County Board of Supervisors’ decision to rezone a portion of the area from residential/ agriculture to Heavy Industrial. The suit also seeks to overturn the County certification of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), citing many inadequately addressed CEQA requirements, omissions and misinformation given to the public. The 50-year project, if allowed to proceed, will permanently affect public health, air quality, water quality, traffic levels and noise for neighboring ranchers and the agricultural way of life for the entire Ione Valley.
“It’s beautiful ranching country, the peace and quiet of this land is…you can’t put a price on it,” said Colonel West. The planned strip mine is located on Newman Ridge, an untouched 287-acre, 500’ ridge on the historic Howard Ranch, which cradles the Ione Valley. The ridge is an ideal area for open space conservation, providing 360-degree views of rolling grasslands including 200 year-old oaks and the entire Sierra foothills. Bald and golden eagles, bobcats, migrating Canada geese by the thousands, deer, white egrets and blue herons, wild turkeys, Swainson’s hawks, rare frogs and salamanders, raccoons and badgers populate the untouched environment. West’s ranch sits on the bottom slope of Newman Ridge, literally feet from the planned quarry, and downwind from the planned asphalt plant, which would sprawl over another 114 acres.
West’s granddaughter, major label recording artist Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy (www.afinefrenzy.com) is the US Ambassador for The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); http://www.iucn.org/about/union/iucn_ambassadors/alison_sudol/ and joins the opposition: “The quarry and asphalt plant will permanently destroy a beautiful area of countryside teeming with wildlife. It's a place with tremendous value for visitors and locals alike. The world is expanding faster and faster these days; we should be focused on conserving our open spaces while we still have them.” Sondra West-Moore notes: “The developers and venture capital investors behind this project don’t live in the area, so they don’t care if their project poisons the Ione Valley, and never explored the quality and county revenues an open space park could provide.”
Several California state agencies including CalTrans, the Department of Conservation’s Office of Mine Reclamation, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the California Department of Fish and Game have expressed deep concerns with the adequacy of the EIR and recommended against the county certification. Chief among the problems are known cancer-causing toxins that would be unleashed into the air over Ione Valley. The project group admits that the mine and plant would emit over 100 tons per year of nitrous oxides (NOx) and 152 tons per year of particulate matters (PM10.) Particulate matters are known to adversely affect human health and also have impacts on climate and precipitation.
The Foothill Conservancy, a local conservation organization, http://www.foothillconservancy.org, submitted letters to the County, citing numerous environmental concerns.
TakePart.com, a pro-social media organization, covered the story in depth: http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/10/03/not-my-backyard-94-year-old-retired-marine-corps-colonel-fights-strip-mine.
At the Board of Supervisors’ appeal hearing on the EIR certification, more than three dozen local families spoke directly to the Board, expressing deep concern and disbelief about how their questions regarding the project and air, water quality, noise, environmental damage and traffic issues had been left unanswered.
An opposition petition signed by 364 people (as of October 9th, signatures number 418 to date) with detailed comments from both local and international citizens - http://signon.org/sign/no-on-newman-ridge-quarry - was presented to the County during the public hearing. The appeal was denied by the Board of Supervisors, leaving a lawsuit as the only recourse left for opponents. Ione Valley LAWDA maintains that the project is environmentally disastrous, violates numerous CEQA provisions, misled the public with omitted or inaccurate information, is a danger to public health and is unnecessary to the local economy as other established quarries satisfy regional demand for mining products and asphalt.
Ione Valley LAWDA, LLC
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com