Gravel Haulers Prohibited Through Ojai, Los Padres

Trucks Brake for Highway 33

Gravel trucks similar to this one seen traveling through one of the three Matilija Tunnels in Los Padres National Forest won't be able to travel down Route 33 away from a new mine along the Cuyama River.
Photo courtesy Los Padres Forest Watch / www.LPFW.org

The main artery through Ojai, State Route 33 sits in western Ventura County, just a few miles from the Santa Barbara County border. Along Route 33 sit schools, hospitals, shopping malls, and Ojai’s busiest intersection. What it will not accommodate-to the relief of many Ojai residents-is the daily rumbling of hundreds of semi trucks carrying thousands of pounds of gravel to construction sites throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Those residents can thank officials at Troesh Materials, Inc.-owners of the new Diamond Rock mine in Santa Barbara County’s Cuyama Valley-and, in part, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission.

When the Planning Commission first saw proposals for Diamond Rock in July 2007, Troesh planned 138 daily trips hauling gravel and sand south on Route 33 through Ojai. The project spent a year being tweaked by the state Office of Mine Reclamation, and, in approving it on May 14, the Planning Commission agreed with operating-condition compromises Troesh offered to make for Diamond Rock-namely, eliminating the daily parade of gravel trucks through Ojai as well as parts of the Los Padres National Forest on Route 33. The loss of these southbound trips means that production will be cut by 20 percent because, in effect, mine operations are controlled by the number of truck trips each day. The Planning Commission didn’t ban all traffic out of the mine, however. Now, 72 trucks a day, and 110 under peak conditions, will be taking a different route away from the mine. They’ll either head north on Highway 33 to hit Interstate 5 for Los Angeles or continue north to Highway 166 toward Santa Maria. Even under the highest levels of service, these highways will not suffer the impacts that Route 33 would.

“The Highway 33 corridor is not suitable for these big trucks” – 1st District Planning Commissioner Michael Cooney

But it does stop them, for now, from heading south on Route 33, a single-lane mountain highway that can be dangerous for trucks pulling two trailers, each containing 60,000-80,000 pounds of gravel. “The Highway 33 corridor is not suitable for these big trucks,” said 1st District Planning Commissioner Michael Cooney, who-along with three other planning commissioners-voted to approve the project. Michael Shapiro of the Stop the Trucks Coalition, citing the air quality impact on the health, safety, and welfare of those living or traveling near Route 33, said industrial traffic through Ojai would have had a palpable and “scary” impact on residents, creating an industrial feel that could potentially harm the valley’s income from its reputation for arts and tourism. “It [would have] totally, adversely affected the economy,” Shapiro said. Jeff Kuyper, executive director of ForestWatch, a watchdog group dedicated to preserving and protecting Los Padres National Forest, also expressed concern about the trips down Route 33, pointing out that the trucks would have passed by campgrounds, swimming holes, and other popular wilderness areas in their routes.

The ban isn’t permanent, however. For this reason, some suggested the Environmental Impact Report only be partially certified. They worried that certification of the entire EIR would appear to approve the parts of the EIR that did discuss the truck travel now eliminated through Ojai in case Troesh officials change their mind. “We believe that the Environmental Impact Report fails to adequately analyze Highway 33 to determine its long-term safety and efficacy for wide-spread industrial utilization,” said Shapiro, who said he plans to appeal the decision to the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors. “Until and unless the current EIR establishes a permanent ban on such utilization-with adequate redress if such a ban is ever lifted-the Coalition will remain proactive in opposing any such utilization,” Shapiro said. Should Troesh choose to pursue truck traffic on Route 33, county officials said the EIR would then have to be updated to address new impacts, and affected residents and groups would have to be informed of the change. Thus, the commissioners approved the EIR.

Diamond Rock is one of three potential mining operations in the county along the Cuyama River. General Production Services (GPS) has been mining north of the Diamond Rock site for decades. Officials are proposing to relocate its digging pit because its current hole is not refilling with enough high-quality material, and an EIR is expected this summer. As part of its new proposal, GPS’s production rate will decrease or stay the same, and the company has indicated it will cease sending the 10 to 12 truck trips it has historically sent down Route 33. To the north of GPS is a project by Richards Holding Company. The application for that mining project is not complete, and a Planning Commission hearing wouldn’t come until 2009. The company has not yet agreed to any restrictions.

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