On December 16, 2019, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 in favor of allowing the Harris Quarry in Willits to expand its operations by increasing its aggregate output and developing an asphalt plant. This has been 15 years in the making. Years ago, opponents of this expansion sued Harris Quarry on 22 counts, 20 of which were thrown out and the remaining two have since been addressed to the satisfaction of the courts and the county supervisors.
At the December 16 meeting, it was standing-room only with an overflow conference room full of interested citizens—clearly, this is a hot topic. Legitimate arguments were made in favor and against allowing the quarry to expand.
Those against the quarry’s expansion cited increased fire danger and noted that there is only one way in and out for those who live on Black Bart Trail. They also suggested that pollution of all kinds (light, water, air, noise) would reduce their quality of life and the value of downwind/downstream businesses.
Those in favor of the quarry reminded the crowd that if we are to live and work in this county, we depend on aggregate (which is construction-grade rock) and asphalt. By locating aggregate and asphalt in-county, we reduce the time, cost and environmental damage caused by bringing these materials in from elsewhere. The quarry, which is at the top of a grade, transports full trucks downhill and empty trucks uphill. Those trucks also travel fewer miles than those who come from Humboldt, Lake and Sonoma Counties.
No one brought up the idea of going without aggregate and asphalt because everyone knows that both are essential to our current way of life. If you live in a home, work in a building, park on the street or in a parking lot, shop at a local business, and drive to and from any of these places, you depend on aggregate and asphalt.
So, we can choose to support a local company that has completed the Environmental Impact Reports and adjusted its operations to comply with the two recommendations, or we can continue to depend on aggregate and asphalt from out of town, wasting time, money and causing more environmental damage in the process.
I have sympathy for those who live and work near the quarry. I admit I wouldn’t be thrilled to find out that a nearby quarry planned to increase operations in my neighborhood, but we live in a community where we all have to do what is reasonable—as opposed to exactly what we want. And, we all pay more one way or another when we aren’t reasonable.
When businesses set their prices, they must consider uncertainty. Grocery stores plan on some food spoiling. Retail stores plan on some shoplifting. Physicians consider the cost of malpractice insurance when they bill for an office visit. This is how the world works. So, if we can reduce uncertainty, we can often reduce the cost of doing business. Right now, we have an extreme housing shortage in Mendocino County. Making it less expensive to build here by supporting a local quarry’s expansion seems like a reasonable choice.
It’s up to our government and our court system to help us determine what is reasonable. The Harris Quarry is in a properly zoned area and the company has come into compliance with all relevant regulations. While I respect the concerns of Supervisors Haschak and Williams, I applaud Supervisors Brown, McCowen and Gerde for voting in favor of this project.
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