RIVERBANK -- The city may be on the verge of settling its lawsuit against Tuolumne County over the county's approval of an open-pit mine that would ship mined rock by railroad through downtown Riverbank.
Doug White, Riverbank's attorney in this matter, said the City Council is scheduled to take up the settlement in closed session tonight and he is recommending the council approve it.
White said he could not release details of the settlement, but said it addresses the city's concerns about long, slow-moving trains tying up downtown traffic; delays in response times for ambulances and fire engines; and the noise and dust from the trains.
The settlement includes the city's concerns about the potential for asbestos being present in the mined rock.
"I can't disclose (financial) amounts," he said, "but we're pleased with the amount that the city has reached
to mitigate the impacts on the city."
Riverbank sued Tuolumne County in May 2011 after it approved the Cooperstown Quarry. The open-pit mine is proposed for 135 acres bordering Stanislaus County, about nine miles southeast of Knights Ferry.
Miners could remove as much as 56 million tons of crushed rock over 75 years. The rock would be used as railroad ballast, in road building and other industrial uses. Trains from Oakdale-based Sierra Northern Railway would haul the rock through Oakdale and Riverbank.
Riverbank contends that the county failed to conduct an adequate environmental review of the project's impacts on the environment, air quality, and public health and safety. The city contends that the county should have performed an environmental impact report for the mine, a far more extensive and expensive review than what the county conducted.
The city also sued Jack and Tricia Gardella, who own the 135 acres, and mine operator Resources Exploration Drilling LLC.
Two environmental groups Friends of the Mother Lode and Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center also filed a lawsuit against the Gardellas, Resource Exploration and Tuolumne County.
The proposed settlement would end all litigation.
"It does appear that the various issues have been resolved, and a final settlement is likely," said John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center. "However, that still depends upon approval by the various government agencies. The city of Riverbank and the county of Tuolumne need to take action before all parties will be in agreement."
Buckley declined to release details about the settlement until it becomes final. But he said it addresses his group's concerns, which include mitigating the loss of oak woodlands and wildlife created by the mine, greenhouse gas emissions and the increased railroad traffic.
Riverbank to recover fees, court costs
Resources Exploration Drilling managing member Patrick Embree said: "We are cautiously optimistic that we are close to wrapping this thing up."
Tuolumne County Deputy County Counsel Carlyn Drivdahl declined to comment.
White said the settlement includes a provision that Riverbank will recover all of its legal fees and court costs. He said they are $185,000 for his law firm and the law firm of Somach Simmons & Dunn.
When the county approved the project in 2011, it included a provision that the landowners and mine operator would be responsible for the legal fees if the county were sued.
Embree said his mining company still is securing the permits and permissions it needs to operate; he declined to say when he expects the quarry to open. He has said the mine could employ about 30 workers.
The council will meet today at 6 p.m. in the council chamber, 6707 Third St.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.