Imagine taking a 5-acre piece of hillside in a watershed surrounding Humboldt Bay, removing all of the trees and topsoil down to bare dirt and rock, expos­ing it to year after year of winter rains, and then expecting downstream neighbors and Humboldt County residents to believe “it’ll be fine.”

That’s what the county supervisors and the Schnei­der quarry operators are ask­ing us to do.

The Schneider quarry is adjacent to Rocky Creek, which flows into Humboldt Bay just south of Bayside Cutoff. For years the quarry had an operations plan, a reclamation plan, and a viable business enterprise.

However, the reclamation plan expired in 2003, requir­ing the quarry owners to begin reclamation to restore the exposed rock faces.

Instead, quarry operators chose to do nothing, for 8 years.

In 2011, the county noti­fied the quarry owner to take action: either close the mine and conduct the required reclamation, or renew the reclamation plan. The owner chose to do the latter because it required no action at the quarry, just paper­work.

The county is the lead agency for several state laws, and is required to ensure that the mining operator fol­lows those laws. In this case, SMARA (the state mining law), CEQA (the state envi­ronmental protection law), and the federal Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act all apply.

The quarry owner is required to protect water quality and fish habitat in nearby Rocky Creek. The county must also ensure that all required permits are in place to comply with state and federal statutes.

The county has failed on both counts. Quarry opera­tors submitted their reclama­tion plan to the Planning Commissioners last January without appropriate protec­tion for Rocky Creek in vio­lation of SMARA, CEQA, and the federal Clean Water Act. Despite the fact that the proposed plan was both incomplete and did not comply with state and feder­al laws, the Planning Com­mission approved it.

Alarmed by the county’s cavalier attitude toward enforcing the law at the quarry, Humboldt Baykeeper and California Trout appealed the Planning Com­mission’s approval of the faulty reclamation plan.

Our appeal issues are two­fold: protecting nearby nest­ing bald eagles, and protect­ing the $1 million in taxpay­er funds spent to restore coho salmon and steelhead habitat in Rocky Creek. This multi-year restoration effort paid for a fish-friendly tide­gate, removed fish passage barriers, upgraded culverts and bridges to prevent ero­sion, and improved fish habitat. Public funds were also used to restore a former mill site. All of these improvements are at risk if the approved reclamation plan is allowed to stand as currently written.

The quarry operator has consistently refused to obtain the required water quality permit, has refused to enlarge the sediment basins to prevent polluted runoff from reaching the creek, and now is adamantly refusing to waive the county’s liability as is standard procedure in appeal cases. Incredibly, the quarry owners claim they need access to up to 7,000 cubic yards of quarry rock annually for “personal use” and not for sale. Surprising­ly, the county is willing to accept this dubious claim, despite photo evidence we’ve recently provided them that the quarry is being mined for commercial sales.

The county’s planning staff and counsel agreed with sev­eral of our appeal issues, and recommended changes to the project. We were encour­aged by these improvements when our appeal was initially reviewed by county supervi­sors at a Dec. 10 hearing.

Unfortunately, a majority of supervisors seemed to favor rejecting these improve­ments recommended by staff.

Today, the Board of Super­visors will resume the appeal hearing, and may vote to approve this unlawful proj­ect. Doing so would under­mine state laws and protec­tion of Humboldt County’s irreplaceable natural resources. It would also sig­nal a step backward in the significant efforts that have gone into improving habitat for imperiled salmon and steelhead habitat in a region that once enjoyed robust salmon and steelhead popu­lations.

Perhaps of greatest con­cern, the board would set a dangerous precedent if it allows this faulty plan to move forward. Humboldt County residents deserve and respect a county govern­ment that upholds the law and protects our natural resources. We are counting on our supervisors to do just that.

Darren Mierau is North Coast area manager for California Trout, a San Francisco-based 501(c)(3) conservation group.


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