RMC Lonestar Quarry Expansion - It's Yours…No,
We call it trees, brush, animals, insects, the environment. The thin surface of our planet where most land life exists. RMC Lonestar calls it overburden. To them, it’s just an obstacle to be removed to get at the limestone underneath.
Limestone is the lifeblood of their huge dragon of a plant in Davenport, the central element in the 875,000 tons of cement they sell every year to build skyscrapers and highways. To feed this voracious dragon, they must pursue this limestone relentlessly, ever deeper into Bonny Doon, consuming trees and hills, houses and roads, whatever’s in the way.
Strip-mine paradise to building a Stockton parking lot? That’s the Davenport cement plant’s business, and it’s a very lucrative one, bringing in $40 million last year, according to Satish Sheth, local vice president for cement operations for the multi-billion dollar European based international conglomerate that owns RMC Lonestar.
It is the largest private landowner in Santa Cruz County, with 10,000 acres in Bonny Doon. It paid over $800,000 in property taxes last year, which gives it a lot of leverage at the county building.
We don’t criticize RMC for being profitable, or large. We recognize that everyone uses cement. We just think that more than enough of Bonny Doon, some of the most magnificent (and most valuable) property on the planet, has already been consumed for this purpose.
RMC has invested over $120 million in the last few years in the quarry and cement plant, according to a former company executive. Obviously, they will do everything they legally can to recoup this investment and keep their business viable and lucrative.
To do that, they have to have a local source of limestone, according to Sheth. And the 272-acre quarry in Bonny Doon is running out. RMC wants to expand into the 25 acres to the west, towards where Smith Grade bends southward (see map in the July 1998 Highlander). If their application is approved, they will begin devouring the hills and trees that have concealed the quarry from most of Bonny Doon, except for the occasional window-rattling blast and machinery drone. This acreage is still in the industrial zone, where mining is permitted.
The principal thing holding up approval is the City of Santa Cruz’s apprehension over how this will affect their Liddell Spring water intake, an important source for city residents.
But this addition will only extend the quarry’s life by another six years or so. With it, the quarry is good for another 20 years, plus or minus a few, depending on how fast they can sell cement, and the chemical quality of the limestone. After that, RMC will want to grind upwards into Bonny Doon itself, starting with properties it has bought along Smith Grade. This also had the effect of eliminating immediate neighbors, who were unhappy about the dust, noise and the occasional boulder propelled onto their property (see the August 26 Santa Cruz Metro).
RMC has already begun drilling to determine the location, quality and quantity of the limestone on its new parcels. If it proves ample and suitable, they will try to change the county’s General Plan to allow mining in what are now residential zones. They will also need Coastal Commission approval. And this could happen a lot sooner than 20 years. That’s because of the way quarrying is done; they can’t fully utilize the existing quarry without beginning to expand beyond it, because they have to terrace in 40 foot stages, and they need sufficient quantities of different types of limestone to make acceptable quality cement.
The potential of this quarry expanding into the heart of Bonny Doon is the biggest long-term threat to our peace and tranquility. Even the potential that it might happen will have a negative effect on property values, and expansion into the new area will bring more of the noise and dust that are inescapable side effects of a quarry, even one with the best intentions. The required setbacks for the quarry are only 25 feet on the north side; in fact, on all sides but the east, where a far-sighted neighbor years ago got a 1,000 foot buffer put in.
At the RBDA meeting on Monday, Sept. 14 (note the change from the usual second Wednesday), RMC’s Satish Sheth will be on hand to answer your questions about his company and its present and future operations. So will Suzanne Smith of the county Planning Department, to explain the regulations affecting the quarry and its expansion application.
If you love living in Bonny Doon, we urge you to be there, too.
The Lonestar Estate
RMC now also owns all the parcels between the limestone quarry and Smith Grade (orange), and is prospecting for limestone there.
The shale quarry, the dumping areas (the outlined areas west of the limestone quarry), and the conveyor belt (purple) that carries crushed rock to the cement plant are all on lands leased from Coast Dairies.
[Note that the road placement on this map may not be exact.]
NOTE: We have two maps you might really like to look at, from the San Andreas Land Conservancy. They are like aerial photos of the area, with overlays of the RMC operations, streams, roads, and so forth.
At over 350KB each, they will take awhile for most computers to load. Click on these links, then go do something for a little while, and come back. They're worth it.
More Buzz on the Mystery Sound
In July we said the Bonny Doon hum came from giant rock crushers at RMC Lonestar’s Davenport cement plant. Questioning this conclusion, which we got from people familiar with plant operations, Satish Sheth, cement plant manager, has launched an investigation into the source of the annoying sound. He has hired a noise consultant to try to pinpoint and, hopefully, mute the source. He will use tape recorders and information from residents who will document when they hear the noise and describe its nature, and compare it to noise measurements and recordings at the cement plant. Seems like a sound effort.
Sheth cautioned that the investigation might take several months because of weather, vacations and the complexity of the effort. We will let you hear if any progress is made.
Santa Cruz Biotechnology continues to get in trouble with regulatory
authorities, illustrating still again how "bass ackwards" the whole process
for development of this quasi-industrial facility has been.
The state Regional Water Quality Control Board, after a site visit on June 17, informed SCB that "manure management, erosion control, and storm water flow control measures [are] in need of improvement."
They want the goat-blood derived human antibody company on Back Ranch Road to put in improvements like berms and swales and additional roofing and walls to keep runoff out of the barns, and concrete composting bunkers for the manure. Of course, this all should have been in place before the first goat arrived.
RWQCB wants the changes in place by November 1, in time for the rainy season, but since the county has halted new construction until SCB files its master plan, this may not be possible.
Meanwhile, on July 28, state Fish and Game filed a Water Right Complaint with the State Water Resources Control Board on various grounds, including SCB’s taking more water than they are allowed, taking water outside the allowed season (Jan. 1 to May 1), using the water to irrigate areas not permitted in their application, lack of monitoring of stream flow, and pollution.
Of course, this all illustrates once again how screwed up the regulatory oversight of this biomedical development has been, and how the county Planning Department has accommodated an aggressive enterprise that has repeatedly done what it wants when it wants, finding it so much easier to ask for forgiveness afterwards than for permission ahead of time.
If it wasn’t for opposition from Save Our Agricultural Lands (SOAL), the RBDA and neighbors, SCB would still be blithely adding goats and barns. On September 16, SCB must file its master plan as required by the new county ordinance, except if it is granted still another delay. This will give the public its first chance to see and comment on the full, planned scope of this feedlot-like development, which now has nearly 2,000 goats and plans to grow to over 5,000.
To help underwrite the cost of the Highlander, we will begin accepting support from businesses, similar to what the listener sponsored radio station KUSP does.
The cost of sponsorship is low, especially considering the number of people the Highlander reaches. For only $11 an issue you can get your message to 1100 Bonny Doon household, a very reasonable penny per each household reached. However, we will only accept 6-issue, 1-year contracts.
Because of limited space, we will accept only 10 to 20 sponsors, so act quickly. And please note: the RBDA reserves the right to reject sponsorships which may conflict with the RBDA’s goals of keeping Bonny Doon rural and natural.
To be a sponsor, send your check for $66 to the RBDA, 102 Sunlit Lane,
Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
Here is an example of how a sponsorship will appear:
Cool Tractor Service
RBDA Web Site Lives!
Our Web site, at http://www.bonnydoon.got.net, is once again being actively updated.
Look for some new photos, including some of the RMC Lonestar limestone quarry, new correspondence from the public and from the RBDA to government agencies and leaders on various issues, new links to government and other sites important to Bonny Dooners, and of course, the Highlander online.
In Memoriam: Ken Norris and Dave Williams
Bonny Doon lost two outstanding residents last month, both of whom made tremendous contributions to our community and the world at large. Both men were former university professors, and dedicated ecologists. UCSC professor Ken Norris, who lived on Back Ranch Road, was one of the world’s leading authorities on whales and dolphins. He made significant contributions to our understanding of these amazing creatures, and to their preservation. Among his legacies is Long Marine Lab. He also championed land-based life, leading the drive to create the UC Natural Reserve System of protected habitats.
Dave Williams retired to Smith Grade from Southern California, and in
his years here focused on the preservation of native plants, water rights
and the protection of Bonny Doon’s environment.
Both men are irreplaceable. Our sympathies go out to their families.
John Forbes, the RBDA’s liaison with Sheriff Mark Tracy’s community advisory committee, says he’s been impressed with Tracy’s sensitivity to community concerns. While refusing to abandon the CAMP helicopter marijuana detection program, he has cut it back and seems to be keeping the intrusive choppers at legal heights.
"I think the sheriff’s keeping a dialog open," says John.
Tracy seems to have taken seriously the complaints of many Dooners.