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Asphalt plant tops the last Portola City Council agenda

By Lauren Westmoreland

[email protected]

 

The most recent meeting of the City of Portola council focused on the proposed asphalt plant in Delleker. But first it opened with the pledge of allegiance, followed by public comment from Portola resident Phil Derby who asked about the Portola Family Resource Center and whether council had any update.

Another resident, Mark Schwier, spoke about claims that Intermountain Disposal (IMD) had been disregarding his request for a full refund on recycling service that he had never used. “I’ve lived in Portola for the last 17 years, since 2006, and have continually had IMD services since then,” he said, explaining that when he moved to the area, he had assumed recycling was a city ordinance and subscribed to those services. Schwier went on to allege that in the past 17 years, he had never received a recycling receptacle or put anything out for pickup before realizing that it was not, in fact, a city ordinance. Ultimately, after several unfruitful conversations with the owners of IMD, he appealed to the city for assistance in the situation. “What should have been a simple request for a refund – I don’t think providing an explanation is unreasonable. Now it’s turning into an issue where I am considering going to small claims court action and am gathering information for people that have complaints on social media as well,” he said, also asking the city to consider terminating its contract with Intermountain Disposal.

Local Heidi Hart then commented about remote access to city council meetings, requesting that it be allowed during extreme weather.

What have council members been doing?

Councilmember Jim Murphy reported he attended the recent media event at Western Pacific Railroad Museum (WPRM), enjoying an announcement that the museum had received a million dollar grant and that they would proceed in building a reception center amongst other buildings. “They also got a $75,000 grant and they are using it on many improvements around the museum. I encourage everyone to attend the museum as they are doing some great things,” he said.

Councilmember Pat Morton also attended the WPRM event, along with a meeting of Beckwourth Fire Department and the community meeting at C. Roy Carmichael Elementary School due to the recent threat.

Councilmember Bill Powers reported that he had attended a transportation meeting, as well as a Tri-Counties Action Agency meeting in Susanville. Powers also thanked law enforcement for their quick action in the threat to the elementary school.

It was noted that staffing was improving at Plumas County Sheriff’s Office as well.

Mikki Brown with Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) spoke briefly, sharing that the wood stove fair had gone well with the best attendance thus far, and also announced that the free green waste event had started for city residents.

The City Manager

Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy reported that since the storm had subsided, there was only 21 water leaks around the city to repair. “We’re constantly working on water leaks,” Kennedy said wryly. He also noted that the upcoming Lost and Found bike race was going to generate about $10,000 in revenue for the city, with 820 registered racers as of the meeting. Kennedy also commented that the pool should be opened shortly after school let out.

Asphalt plant

After approving the consent calendar, the council then moved on to the only item on the agenda, the proposed temporary asphalt plant in Delleker. According to a public notice of intent placed here, the project is proposed to be located at 7600 Industrial Way, Delleker; unincorporated Plumas County, CA; Assessor’s Parcel Number 126-010-050-000; T22N/R13E/Section 3, MDM; Latitude: 39.800459, Longitude: -120.498261.

The property is currently zoned as Heavy Industrial (I-1) and is within the Delleker Industrial Park. The applicant would like to use this property for a temporary asphalt plant which will serve specific limited Caltrans projects on Highway 70. The public notice states that operations at the site would include an asphalt plant and lime treatment plant. It is anticipated that the site would be used on a part-time basis for a period of three years and equipment would be removed when complete. This would be in relation to the upcoming Caltrans Cromberg Rehabilitation project, available for viewing here. 

“We are not the jurisdiction for this proposed plant location, and the audience tonight can take their comments and mail them directly to the planning department at the county,” said Powers. Kennedy noted that there was a flyer in the council chambers that gave directions on how to submit an official comment to the county. “This item pertains to the huge Caltrans project that will be coming out to the area,” Powers added. Kennedy said, “Unexpectedly we also have Perry Thompson of Hat Creek Construction here this evening as well to answer any questions that might be up in the air.”

A woman spoke, first thanking the council for helping residents in the decision not to place an asphalt plant in city limits a few years prior. She asked council if they were “behind the residents of Delleker like they were with us” and council members declined to comment, with Powers stating that they were there to collect comments only.

Another woman stated that she lived across the river from the proposed Delleker plant and was concerned about air quality and property values going down. “Who is going to buy a house with an asphalt plant next door?” she asked. A man living in the same area near the proposed site then stated that he hoped the city would step in against the plan.

Portola resident Heidi Hart said she had flyers available for those interested. “Tracy Ferguson is our county planner and she has that first say,” Hart said. “Hopefully she will protect our region – if she doesn’t, we will have the right to appeal, and may eventually go to a legal fight. I urge the council to join us in formal opposition to this plant and draft formal opposition to the plan. I think all of us here hope that you will. The deadline to comment is June 10.”

A local woman then spoke to her concerns, stating that Portola would be severely impacted by the plant if it went in the Delleker region, between traffic pattern changes to air quality concerns. “The trucks will traverse through Portola, and it will impact our traffic patterns…there have been several suggestions for alternative locations,” she said.

Another woman living near the potential site said that she and her husband had bought their property and improved it over the past seven years in preparation for retirement, but with health problems that would be affected by dust, was concerned that there would be repercussions, as well as environmental effects. Another man spoke about the fact that he felt the city was doing great keeping the community one that was healthy and enjoyable to live in before asking that the city make a formal opposition to the project and submit a letter to the county to postpone the decision on the plant. One woman asked about the lights that would be left on through all hours on site, and whether that would affect the children’s ability to view the stars.

Another woman living on A-15 stated that she and her family had enjoyed the exact proposed site for recreation in recent years, with a plethora of wildlife and plant life in the area. She stated that she and her husband felt the plant would be a major hazard to the entire area and that life would be greatly impacted by the operations for the wildlife and humans in the area. “What remedies and cleanup will be done to that area after operations?” she asked, adding concerns to the air quality in Portola and to the Feather River, going on to ask why the site couldn’t be located further away from the river and the community.

One man posed a question toward Perry Thompson of Hat Creek Construction to be addressed later in the meeting, asking whether there would truly be “150 trucks on the road” for the proposed project. Another man commented that he had purchased a home in Portola due to its proximity to the wild and scenic Feather River and had been disturbed to learn of the plan to put in the proposed plant near the river. “I find it incredulous that the asphalt plant would be located in such a delicate area,” he said, urging the council to make formal opposition to the plant.

Two women concurred with the request for formal opposition from the city, and a Delleker resident stated that she had spoken with businesses in the area of the plant and was under impression that the plant would use water from the Delleker pond, affecting local plant and animal life.

The general manager at Grizzly Lake Community Services DIstrict, Pat Guillory, stated that there were ‘a lot of rumors going around’ and that she wished people would come in and get true facts from the district. “We haven’t signed anything – why do people think that we are going to do this without getting facts from us?” she asked regarding the potential use of water from the pond in Delleker. “Back in October of 2022 I received a letter from CalTrans,” Guillory stated. “They were seeking a potential source of non-potable water for the dust while paving and asked to be on the agenda at a meeting in January – it came to my attention that there was an asphalt plant that was going to be put it with all of the dust, trucks and chemicals – I reached out to Caltrans to see about them working with Hat Creek, and they said that they weren’t. It will all come down to bidding and whoever gets chosen will get the project.” She went on to note that it was a bigger project than she had been told. “We love the Feather River and want to keep it the way it is,” Guillory concluded.

Another woman agreed with a majority of the public and stated that a temporary asphalt plant would cause permanent damage to the ecosystem, in addition to the people of the community. A 24-year resident of the area spoke of concerns over additional trucks in the vicinity and stated that it was a dangerous location for more traffic to come in off of Highway 70.

A woman said that she was raised in the county and began to describe her concerns when Thompson interjected with a muttered curse. Council asked for the room to calm down. “I am very concerned about the pollution and wildlife impacts – I want to continue to be proud to live in this community,” the woman said. A man then stated that he couldn’t think of a better place to put the asphalt plant, with a railyard, a septic plant and cement yard there, as well as the old dump. “That’s a great spot for it,” he added.

A 70-year resident of the area also commented, stating that it might not be the best location, but compared to other areas it was the ‘best location.’ “It’s temporary, not permanent,” he added. “What do you do? Nobody wants it in their backyard – it would be cheaper to have it in this area, rather than somewhere else.”

A woman stated that she had looked into the situation from both sides and that the asphalt fumes had serious health consequences for healthy people, much less people with existing health problems such as asthma. Another man jumped in and added that there would be three times the traffic in the area, and unintended consequences that could form from this situation.

Another 29-year area resident stated that she would like to see more safety precautions put in place if the project was approved on the road near the project, and stated that the biggest potential for damage would occur if a train struck a truck trying to enter the highway. A man agreed, stating that there would be a truck coming out of the plant every two minutes or so, and expressed concern about the intersection as well, asking for traffic mitigation measures. “Everyone that lives here knows that intersection,” he said, describing past car accidents in the area of the proposed asphalt plant.

A 27-year resident stated that they had a lot of concerns in her household about contaminants coming into Portola and that traffic would be a major concern in future. “There has to be a better place,” she said. “Somewhere that will not affect the community.”

Hat Creek Construction’s Perry Thompson then took the spotlight to try and answer a few concerns and address some rumors and misinformation that had been brought up from social media.

Thompson thanked the council for allowing everyone to come and express their opinions and apologized on behalf of his wife and himself for the outburst earlier in the meeting. “We’ve been in business for 52 years and take on Goliaths every day,” Thompson said. “What’s hard to sit and hear is people that are opposed that say things that are absolutely untrue, and we need to take the high road.”

Thompson explained that Hat Creek Construction understood it was scary to have a project like this proposed. “We chose this site because it is zoned heavy industrial and we can only place this type of project in heavy industrial zoning – it is the only place you can put an asphalt plant,” Thompson said. “We are following CEQA guidelines, and the presentation was given to the county who will take all of the comments from meetings like tonight. These things will be considered and the county will make the final decision. The Caltrans project is going to be awarded in 40 days and someone will get it – no matter what.”

Thompson explained further about the 150 trucks and that the 150 trucks that had been asked about earlier in the meeting was actually about 60 trucks and each truck would run about ten loads an hour. He also noted that the project would be done more quickly if the asphalt was in the area, rather than coming in from Reno. “I grew up in Hat Creek – we are all about protecting the wild and scenic Feather River,” he continued. “Asphalt is a non-hazardous project, meaning it is stable under ambient temperatures. If a tank ruptured or leaked, as soon as it cools it hardens and can be picked up- I wanted to get that out.”

Thompson also noted that in discussions with air quality, while there hasn’t been a formal permit approved yet, the project would go to the district for analysis to ensure meeting of requirements. “The plant would run depending on weather, and when the inversion layer is the largest challenge it would not be operating – just during the summer,” Thompson said. “There are some people here no matter what I say who will be inconvenienced and I am sorry for that, I haven’t figured out a better way to do it. We’re trying to do this the right way – I know in this room I am not a popular guy.”

Kennedy then pulled forward a few unanswered questions, starting with water usage. “At no point no decision has been made on where we are going to get water,” Thompson said. “The Delleker pond has never been discussed. 15,000 gallons a day sounds like a lot but it is ultimately five water truckloads of 4,000 gallons. A couple will go to keep dust down- we’re talking 25 gallons a minute. We considered buying it from one of the utility districts locally as well.”

A woman asked for more information about the PM2.5 particulates, and Thompson said that the technology advancements of the last 10 to 20 years had come light years on compliance. “Ultimately it will be up to the district to make the decision,” Thompson added.

Dixie Higgins commented that there were a lot of misinformed opinions about the heavily regulated emissions. “They’re probably cleaner than what you would imagine they would be,” she said. “My concern is businesses on that street.” She noted that for every truck load that goes out, there were trucks that would need to be importing materials. “The truck traffic issue is huge,” she said. “It’s not an intersection that is built to spec – I am super concerned about the traffic on that road with no lights. Intermountain Disposal already backs out of their facility – it’s a real concern. How will you deal with that and what will you do in the event the railroad traffic blocks the access?” Thompson responded that Hat Creek Construction should be able to control traffic at the intersection near Highway 70, noting that he would like to understand further how the traffic flows in and out to better address the issue. “This is the only heavy industrial zoned property in the area,” Thompson said. “I’m not opposed to moving – this is a very lengthy process and we may or may not get this project.”

Another man asked about any smell that could come from the plant, and Thompson responded that the plants have come a long way. “A lot of what people think is smoke coming from the burners these days is steam, and right now asphalt is the best thing out there until they figure out something better,” Thompson said. Kennedy then read a statement from Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) stating, “This type of facility is considered a minor source with no significant impact on PM2.5 levels in the area.”

The concerns about the traffic in the area of the proposed plant were strongly emphasized by another resident once more, and Thompson explained the extensive requirements of getting permitted with the railroad for traffic control such as a flagger for the project, after paying a $25,000 fee to the railroad for the application process. A woman asked what the long-term plan was for the property after the temporary asphalt plant was done being utilized and Thompson responded that they had bought the property some years ago to have a heavy industrial zoned property available. “There is not a possibility of continued operations after the Highway 70 project,” Thompson said. “It will be a minimum of three to three and a half years to get the Caltrans project done.” It was stressed that the plant was under a temporary permit application. “We need this plant for the duration of this Caltrans project,” Thompson emphasized. A woman asked about the number of trucks and Thompson clarified that doing the asphalt plant in the area would mean less trucks to haul materials than if trucks were traveling in from areas such as Reno. One woman stressed her concern of toxic vapors from the proposed plant, and that residents of the area had done this before and asked if Thompson would consider selling the property.

Thompson was asked about hours of operation, and Thompson responded that the application stated Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with crews to work 24 hours a day five days a week with some Saturday work potentially needed if delays were to arise. “Nighttime operations are required by Caltrans at times, and we strongly dislike it but sometimes it is contractually required,” Thompson said.

Another man asked if they had spoken to the hospital about the situation, inquiring how the project would affect ambulances getting through. “Again, we don’t have the contract,” Thompson said. “What we do when emergency personnel comes through is that we give them priority over everyone els e- I can’t tell you how other contractors would deal with it.” For those wishing to submit public comment on this topic to Plumas County Planning Department, the deadline is Saturday, June 10th. Comments may be sent to [email protected] or mailed to Tracey Ferguson 555 Main Street, Quincy, CA 95971.

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