RIVERBANK -- A mine operator has agreed to pay the city nearly $4 million in the coming decades to settle the city's lawsuit over the project, which will ship mined rock by long, slow-moving trains through downtown.
The City Council approved the settlement on a 4-0 vote in closed session at its Monday meeting. Councilman Jesse James White did not attend.
Riverbank sued Tuol-umne County in May 2011 after the county approved the Cooperstown Quarry, an open-pit mine planned for 135 acres bordering Stanislaus County and about nine miles southeast of Knights Ferry.
Riverbank also sued Jack and Tricia Gardella, who own the 135 acres, and mine operator Resources Exploration Drilling LLC.
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 officials feared that the slow-moving 60-car trains would split downtown in half, tying up traffic, would delay response times for ambulances and fire engines, and would create too much noise and dust.
City officials did not say much Monday night about the settlement.
Mayor Virginia Madueño announced that it had been unanimously approved and said she had asked staff to create a special account to track the settlement money.
Riverbank did not release the settlement agreement. But Doug White, the attorney representing the city in the lawsuit, reviewed some of the agreement's highlights:
The mine operator agrees to pay Riverbank nearly $4 million over the life of the project. Riverbank, at its discretion, will use the money to lessen the project's impact on the city. After the meeting, White said the payment is based on a 7-cent fee for every ton of rock mined from the quarry.
The mine operator will reimburse the city its legal costs, which are $185,000.
Train traffic is reduced from 20 round trips per week to six to 10. The length of the trains also is reduced, from a maximum of 60 cars for the first five round trips to 10 cars for trips six through 10. The trains cannot enter Riverbank from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The mine operator must conduct additional asbestos testing of the mined rock to ensure Riverbank residents are not put at risk by asbestos dust and the increased risk of cancer.
White said the Gardellas and Resources Exploration Drilling have approved the settlement, as have Friends of the Mother Lode and Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, which filed their own lawsuit against the project.
White said only Tuolumne County needs to approve it.
He said the settlement agreement should be discussed and voted on in open session at the county's Aug. 21 Board of Supervisors' meeting. White said Riverbank will release the agreement as soon as Tuolumne County does.
He added that he expects the county to approve the settlement, especially because the mine operator and landowners have signed it.
Riverbank contends that the county failed to conduct an adequate environmental review of the project's impact 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.
John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, said last week that the settlement addresses his group's concerns, which include mitigating the loss of oak woodlands and wildlife created by the mine, and increased greenhouse gas emissions and railroad traffic. He declined to provide specifics until all parties have approved the agreement.
Patrick Embree, managing member of Resources Exploration Drilling, expressed optimism last week that the lawsuit would be resolved. But he declined to say when the quarry would open. He said his company is securing the permits and permissions it needs to operate.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.