Friday, April 24, 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).