SONORA -- The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider approving a settlement Tuesday that would end Riverbank's legal opposition to an open-pit mine and pay the city nearly $4 million over the coming decades.
All of the costs of the settlement would be borne by the mine operator.
In April 2011, the supervisors approved the Coopers-town Quarry, an open-pit mine planned for 135 acres bordering Stanislaus County and 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 for road building, railroad ballast and other industrial uses. Trains from Oakdale-based Sierra Northern Rail would haul the rock through Oakdale and Riverbank on long, slow-moving trains.
Riverbank officials feared that the slow-moving, 60-car trains would split their downtown in half, tying up traffic, would delay response times for ambulances and fire engines, and would create too much noise and dust.
In May 2011, Riverbank sued Tuolumne County, mine operator Resources Exploration Drilling LLC and Jack and Tricia Gardella, who own the 135 acres. Two environmental groups Friends of the Mother Lode and Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center also filed a lawsuit against the project.
Doug White, Riverbank's attorney in this matter, said all parties except Tuolumne County have approved the settlement, which also would end the two environmental groups' lawsuit.
The settlement's highlights include:
The mine operator agrees to pay Riverbank nearly $4 million over the life of the project. The payment is based on a 7-cent fee for every ton of rock mined from the quarry.
The mine operator will pay Riverbank $500,000 as an advance against the 7-cent-per-ton fee. The $500,000 will be paid in five annual $100,000 payments starting July 1, 2015.
The money from the 7-cent fee will go to Riverbank's general fund and will be used as the city determines best, at its sole and absolute discretion. When the City Council approved the settlement Aug. 13, Mayor Virginia Madueño said a special account would be created to track the money, which would be used to mitigate the project's impacts.
The mine operator will reimburse Riverbank and the two environmental groups their legal costs. Those costs are $185,000 for the city and $87,525 for the two groups.
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. or 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.
The number of project acres dedicated for open space is increased from 51.2 to 87.8. This land is intended to make up for the loss of habitat and old-growth oak trees caused by the mine.
Beginning in the fifth year of mining, the mine operator will pay the county $60,000 and then an additional $60,000 every 10 years. Or beginning in the fifth year, the mine operator will pay the county $10,000 and an additional $10,000 each year after that. The money is for projects that improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Riverbank and the environmental groups sued because they claimed Tuolumne County failed to perform the appropriate environmental review for a project of this scope. Under the terms of the settlement, there is no admission of wrongdoing by any of the parties.
The county counsel's office is recommending the Board of Supervisors approve the settlement. The supervisors are slated to discuss and vote on the settlement in open session.
A Resources Exploration Drilling official said last month that the company still is acquiring the permits and permissions it needs to operate the mine and would not say when he expected the mine to open.
The Board of Supervisors meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the County Administration Center, fourth floor, 2 S. Green St.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.