Ron Epstein: The Destructive Harris Quarry Asphalt Plant Should Not Be Approved — Will Pollute And Cause Cancer In Ukiah…

Coming our way soon?


Here are four questions the Board of Supervisors should be clear about before they make a decision on the Harris Quarry Expansion Project Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR): 1) Is this asphalt plant project needed? 2) Is it in the right location and why is it tied to a general rezoning change? 3) Is it safe? 4) Is it good for business and for our community?

Yes, we need asphalt, but no one has shown that the needs correspond to the large amount projected to be produced by this plant. No one knows when the Willits bypass is going to be built, and even the asphalt for that will be a temporary need. Given the current economic situation of the county, it is doubtful that we are going to be able to afford huge amounts of asphalt for city and county roads. Asphalt cannot be easily transported long distances, so this cannot become an export business to locations out of the county. Despite the assurances of the FEIR, asphalt plants are extremely toxic and polluting. They do not belong in areas surrounded by a lot of people. Clearly the Harris Quarry is not the right location, as has been shown by the large number of neighbors who have formally objected to the project. Although there are not unlimited sites in the county that are appropriate for an asphalt plant, there are some that are in low population areas and that can be easily obtained. And to use the Harris Quarry Expansion Project as a pretext for a general zoning change is just bad planning practice and not in the public interest.

The FEIR claims that all of the detailed public comments regarding serious health hazards from the current quarry and the proposed asphalt plant either can be successfully mitigated or are false. The Planning Commission needs to realize that the FEIR claims are at best controversial and are based on inadequate government standards, and that county guidelines for applying the precautionary principle apply here. Asphalt fumes include known potent carcinogens. The proposed asphalt plant would seriously pollute both its immediate surroundings and the greater Ukiah area, which is downwind, with those carcinogens. Men in this country have a one in two chance of getting cancer during their lifetimes. Women have a one in three chance. About 80% of cancers are environmentally caused. In assessing the danger of the carcinogens from the proposed asphalt plant, we need to remember that the effect of carcinogens on our bodies is cumulative. Even small doses of carcinogens accumulate in our cells and can combine with other carcinogens to create a risk which is greater than the sum of the individual risks.

Furthermore, even if we were to accept the health assurances of the FEIR, they are based on the best possible scenario, in which the proper equipment is installed and properly maintained and inspected, and in which there are no significant breakdowns of equipment or human errors causing increased pollution. The FEIR also assumes that even in the case of change of ownership, the same high standards laid out in the FEIR will be scrupulously maintained. We all know that such a scenario is fantasy and not in accord with what we know about the maintaining and monitoring of pollution standards both nationally and on the county level. We all know that if the plant is built, there will be all sorts of problems and lapses, and that whatever assurances are given by the current owners, we cannot be sure that we can count on them in the long run.

I believe that all the members of the planning commission are concerned about the health of people in the county.  For that reason, they need to be very careful not to approve projects that will cause more cancer deaths in our community and that will cause irreversible environmental harm to the surrounding community.

Finally, the commission needs to examine carefully the claim that the plant will contribute to the overall economic health of the county and create jobs. The jobs created will be very few, and the employees will be at serious health risk. Asphalt workers have one of the highest cancer rates of any employment category. It is also not clear that the rosy predictions of asphalt demand will materialize so that the business will be viable.

The proposed plant’s influence on the image of our community is perhaps the most important factor to consider in the economic context. Both tourists and potentially desirable residents are drawn to the area by its beauty and pristine environment. The proposed Harris Quarry site is right at the gateway to Willits as one drives north on 101, and it is almost at the top of the grade that one descends into the Ukiah valley. The commission should take very seriously the extreme negative impression that the proposed asphalt plant will make, from its large and ugly blot on the view-scape, on people visiting our community. It is likely that the negative impression will lead to negative economic impacts that will far exceed even the most positive estimates of economic benefit from the asphalt plant. As servants of the people in the service of the public good, the members of the Board of Supervisors should not approve the FEIR.

We rid ourselves of one killer polluter, Masonite, we can stop another…

See also Harris Quarry Quarrel Continues

One Comment

Good presentation, Ron. I wish you had elaborated a bit more on the precedent setting effect of a general plan change, which I’ve read elsewhere (somewhere, that is – I recall the discussion but can’t cite the source) that this part of the asphalt plant approval process would open the door to applications for multiple siting of other industrial functions in any part of the County, such as refineries for newly opened oil lease pumping, on parcels within what is now a rangeland protected status.

The fact that anyone ever approved the massive landscape modification now accelerating on the Ridgewood Grade is unfortunate. Will the mountain be turned inside out and become a vast hole? Mendocino County’s manmade Grand Pit, with ramps leading down into thermal zones, and eventually to China, etc. Major tourist attraction eventually, perhaps.