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National Quarries reclamation plan modification approved Road assessment district to be explored

After four continuances, the modification of the National Quarries reclamation plan was approved by a unanimous Planning Commission vote October 3.

The plan, which was initially approved in 1979 and amended in 2002, was changed to bring the plan into compliance with current state Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) standards.

The amendments now accommodate current operating plans and planned future uses and include the entire 210-acre southern Bonsall site and all disturbed lands on the property.

While a 2007 Superior Court decision settled a dispute between National Quarries and the County of San Diego on the county’s ability to limit truck traffic, the reclamation plan was a separate issue.

The final continuances involved the Planning Commission’s desire to review the court decision and to have County Counsel associated with the litigation in attendance at the hearing to answer any possible questions.

The court decision established National Quarries’ vested operations right while the reclamation plan covers the site after the mining operations have ceased.

The safety of Twin Oaks Valley Road, both for trucks traveling to and from National Quarries and for nearby residents and their guests, thus must be addressed separately.

“I believe that there is a potential safety problem there,” said Planning Commissioner John Riess.

Riess suggested looking into the formation of an assessment district to improve the road, although that was not part of the motion to approve the reclamation plan.

While the Planning Commission is under the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use, an assessment district would be through the county’s Department of Public Works.

“We will work with the Department of Public Works,” said DPLU interim director Eric Gibson.

“We’re enthusiastically participating in that process because we’ve been asking to fix that road for eight years, and we expect to pay a disproportionate share of the cost if that district is ever established,” said National Quarries owner John Petterson.

The Planning Commission was initially scheduled to hear the reclamation plan on April 18, but three days earlier the state Department of Conservation submitted comments all parties felt should be addressed. Both the Form of Decision and the environmental Mitigated Negative Declaration were revised between the initial hearing date and the September 5 hearing.

Mining at the National Quarries site began in 1940, which preceded laws requiring a permit for such activity.

County aerial photographs taken in 1973 indicate that mining had taken place on all parcels of the 210-acre site by that time, providing a vested mining right for the entire site. SMARA stipulates that a vested right to conduct surface mining operations prior to 1976 exempts the parcel from a permit for continued operations, although all mining activities after 1975 must be conducted in accordance with an approved reclamation plan.

Mining at the site will continue until available resources are depleted, which is estimated to occur in approximately 75 years.

The reclamation, however, will occur in phases as portions of the final reclaimed surface are created by the mining operations. The reclamation will include final slope grading, reapplying topsoils, revegetation, and rock staining.

The completion of the excavations will create a nearly level pad of approximately 80 acres surrounded by quarry slopes, and any future development on the site will likely be limited to that level area.

Although future uses cannot be identified with certainty, the reclamation plan identifies material recycling as a potential use which would comply with existing zoning.

Approximately 70 acres of the site are not planned for mining activity and are not expected to be disturbed by the mining operation.

The National Quarries property is within a pre-approved mitigation area of the North County Multiple Species Conservation Plan.

Conditions proposed under the new plan include annual inspections with 24-hour notice and special inspections to investigate any suspected violations, installation of a groundwater monitoring well with annual inspections to address ongoing slope and groundwater conditions, and improvement of the access road.

National Quarries will provide the county with annual photographs to show that reclamation of the slopes will be consistent with their natural formation on the site.

The conditions to improve the access road are separate from the plan to form an assessment district. The access road improvement is not required until the acceptance of the final site reclamation.

Those improvements will include implementation of standards for culverts or other drainage facilities which can convey 100-year flood flow while maintaining at least one foot of freeboard below the roadway.

The site was initially zoned in October 1957 and became a non-conforming use since mining activities were already taking place.

A special use permit was obtained for mining activities, and any expansion or intensification of the use was subject to legal requirements.

In 1987 the county amended its Zoning Ordinance and zoned the property S82, or Extractive Use, to bring the site into conformance with the zoning designation.

In 1968 the Planning Commission approved a special use permit to add a granite sawing processing plant to the existing quarry, and in December 1987 the county’s Planning and Environmental Review Board approved a major use permit to allow continued use of the existing granite sawing and processing plant.

That permit was valid for 15 years.

An application for the permit’s renewal was filed in November 2002. Since the application was filed prior to the expiration date the saws and processing plant were allowed to operate as the renewal was being processed.

The renewal application did not propose an increase in the activity associated with the saws, although it reflected a technology upgrade which also reduced noise.

The application was not heard by the Planning Commission until June 2004, when the Planning Commission opted not to render a decision but to direct DPLU to review the non-conforming use rights of National Quarries.

After seven continuances, the Planning Commission issued a decision in June 2005 which renewed the permit but included a condition which limited the number of trucks hauling materials into and away from the site to 32 trucks per week with a maximum of 21 trucks on any particular day.

The granite saws and processing plant are located on a 68.66-acre parcel which is one of six contiguous parcels comprising the National Quarries site, but the condition limiting truck traffic was applied to the entire 210-acre facility since the purpose of the saws and plant are to process granite quarried from the non-conforming mining operation and DPLU could not make findings of compatibility with the surrounding area unless the non-conforming operation from which the materials are extracted were operated at authorized levels of production.

Petterson appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the Board of Supervisors, claiming that the limits on haul truck trips conflicted with the mining operation’s vested rights.

Petterson did not appeal any of the other conditions of the permit, which included submittal of a monitoring plan to ensure compliance with the major use permit modification, a safety study of Twin Oaks Valley Road including an evaluation of the use of double-haul trucks and methods to control rock debris on the roads, and exploration of whether another means of vehicular access is available.

The Board of Supervisors heard the appeal in early 2006 at two separate hearings and voted 5-0 in March 2006 to approve the renewal of the permit along with the truck limit.

Petterson challenged the county’s authority to regulate a vested mining interest in court, and the case was heard in Superior Court before Vista judge Michael Orfield in May 2007.

Orfield noted that SMARA exempts a property with a vested mining right from the requirement to obtain zoning use permits.

He ruled that National Quarries has a vested right to quarry and sell granite in response to demand and that the county has no authority to restrict a vested business’s activities through zoning regulations.

Orfield added that residents have recourse if the quarry is being operated as a nuisance but such recourse would be through a private nuisance lawsuit rather than the lawsuit regarding the permit conditions.

Orfield’s decision not only struck down the truck limitation but also invalidated the permit requirement itself.

“You can’t impose a permit on a mining property in operation since the 1930s. It wouldn’t be logical. That’s what the court found,” Petterson said. “State law says I don’t need a permit.”

Petterson has no objections to the reclamation plan.

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