The lengthy legal battle over the a west-county quarry is over, and at least one member of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors is not happy about the agreement.
Supervisor Randy Hanvelt made some impassioned comments Tuesday about a settlement agreement between the county, city of Riverbank, Cooperstown Quarry owners, the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center and Friends of the Mother Lode, publicly calling the latter groups’ legal opposition to the Cooperstown Quarry “un-American” and “extortion.”
The board approved the settlement Tuesday, making the county the final party to do so since the agreement was reached last month. The settlement has Cooperstown Quarry paying 7 cents for every ton of rock extracted from the quarry and sent to Riverbank. That amounts to around $4 million over the life of the project.
The agreement also reduces rail traffic associated with the quarry by about two-thirds, and requires the quarry to cover legal fees incurred through the process. The agreement would not require the county or quarry owners to conduct a detailed environmental report, but does require some additional asbestos testing.
Riverbank filed a lawsuit against the county and quarry owners after the Board of Supervisors allowed the quarry project to move forward without a detailed environmental impact report. For major projects that have significant environmental impacts, state law requires the EIR to detail those impacts and lay out ways to lessen or compensate for them.
One of Riverbank’s main concerns has been over increased train traffic through town that the quarry will produce. The 135-acre Cooperstown project is expected to generate as much as 56 million tons of rock over the next 75 years, which will be transported by rail.
Environmental groups Friends of the Mother Lode and CSERC soon after approval filed separate but similar litigation over the project.
Despite all parties agreeing to the terms of settlement, Hanvelt criticized quarry opponents during a lengthy speech Tuesday. He called the lawsuits “opportunistic, legalized municipal extortion and tyranny,” later saying that Riverbank’s public officials have violated their oaths to abide by the constitution by suing the county and quarry.
“It’s wrong. It’s flat out wrong,” Hanvelt said.
“They’re doing us a favor,” he later said of the quarry project. “They’re creating jobs. And what happens? They pay the price for it.”
Hanvelt eventually voted for the settlement, saying the vote is necessary to move the project ahead. Because supervisors Evan Royce and John Gray were absent, a “no” vote by Hanvelt would have killed the settlement.
“We’ll do this because it’s necessary to do it,” Hanvelt said before adding, “We’re all prostitutes.”
Supervisor Liz Bass took exception to that last comment and told Hanvelt she resented the language.
“I know what you’re trying to say, but I wish you could find decent language in a public place like this,” Bass said.
John Buckley, director of CSERC, also criticized Hanvelt’s comments, calling it “hypocritical” for the supervisor to criticize a city for suing to minimize impacts of a project. Buckley pointed out in an email to The Union Democrat that the county sued Calaveras County to receive payments to cover traffic impacts caused by development near Copperopolis.
Buckley also placed the blame for the legal fight on Tuolumne County, maintaining the county should have conducted a proper environmental review.
“Neither CSERC nor the city of Riverbank deserve to be called names or blasted as ‘un-American’ just because we have different views than the county supervisors,” Buckley said in the email. “Randy needs to take some classes in anger management and in how the democratic process works.”
In other news, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors:
• Approved a Memorandum of Agreement with the National Forest Service, Rural Council of Rural Counties, California State Association of Counties and Bureau of Land Management. Under the agreement, the federal agencies have agreed to extend more communication to counties like Tuolumne as they modify land-use and management policies for public lands.
• Recognized Sonora High School senior Julian Divine for winning the Tuolumne County Celebration of the Arts in Schools exhibit. His artwork will be displayed at the county administration building all year.
• Recognized Elizabeth Barnes of Veterans Services for 35 years of service as a county employee.