County supervisors Tuesday awarded the URS Corporation of San Francisco a $406,072 contract to assess the impact of a quarry proposed east of Santa Margarita.
The URS environmental impact report will examine the potential traffic, air pollution, water and other problems of the would-be Oster-Las Pilitas Quarry.
The project in question is a proposed 60-acre hard rock and aggregate operation on a 260-acre parcel four miles east of Santa Margarita. The operation would be at 6660 Calf Canyon Highway, which is also Highway 58, just east of the Salinas River Bridge.
The county Planning and Building Department had earlier chosen Benchmark Resources to conduct the EIR. But after neighborhood opposition, Planning Director Jason Giffen and Environmental Coordinator Ellen Carroll chose to seek new bids.
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Benchmark was one of the finalists this time around as well.
The county did not say why it chose URS over Benchmark.
However, in a staff report, planners said there was a “community perception problem” with the earlier choice of Benchmark. In the report, planners said community members perceived that “Benchmark was tied too closely to the mining industry and would not be able to prepare an objective and unbiased environmental impact report.”
Opponents of the quarry organized a sophisticated campaign and bombarded the county with scores of emails and other communications questioning not only Benchmark’s objectivity but also that of county planners.
Benchmark denied the accusation, as did planners.
A five-member panel consisting of three members of the Planning and Building Department, and one each from the Department of Public Works and the Air Pollution Control District, chose URS, according to senior planner John Nall.
One of the chief opponents of Benchmark, Charles Kleeman, has expressed concern about URS as well, according to Nall. Kleeman is a neighbor of the project.
Nall said all the concerns will be addressed in the EIR, which is, by definition, tailored to measure the nature and degree of potential harm a project can create, and possible mitigations.
Residents in and near Santa Margarita have said they worry about the impact of a predicted 200 trucks daily from the quarry once it is up and running.
Once the EIR has been completed, and the impact delineated, there will be public hearings at which members of the community can weigh in, Nall and Supervisor Jim Patterson noted.