Thumbs up for Salida hulling plant

The Salida Hulling Association won approval from the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors for its proposed hulling plant at Maze Boulevard and Dakota Avenue on Tuesday after several hours of sometimes emotional testimony and debate.

The project has been pending for four years and went through the Planning Commission and county board approval process twice. It is the only hulling proposal in the state to have gone through a California Environmental Quality Act review process, according to county planning staff.

The board approved the plant on a 3-1 vote, with Supervisor Dick Monteith voting against it and Supervisor Tom Mayfield recusing himself because he owns a hulling operation.

Residents near the proposed hulling plant formed a group called Friends of the Central Valley to oppose it. They have objected to the plant on safety concerns, the additional truck traffic it would generate, and the air pollution and noise they say it would cause.

The group's attorney, Marc Chytilo, questioned whether the environmental review ade- quately addressed traffic issues. He contended that traffic information surfaced at Tuesday's hearing that should have been used in the environmental review.

Thomas Terpstra, an attorney for the Salida Hulling Association, said the group has offered to pay the full cost of a traffic light at the intersection to mitigate traffic concerns. A berm, landscaping and a buffer zone of almond trees will shield neighbors from noise and the sight of the processing plant, he said.

Dr. Raymond Cimino, a Modesto trauma surgeon, gave an emotional speech on having to deal with accident victims. He said he opposes the project because of traffic safety concerns.

"It's a very sad job. I'm called every time there is a bad car accident," he said. "Tragedy occurs over and over again in this county. ... This is one example where we can take a lead role in making traffic safer," he told the board.

Wayne Zipser, executive manager of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, went through a history of the county's efforts to support agriculture, from the "Right to Farm" ordinance to the agricultural element of the county's general plan.

"We believe this is closely related to agriculture," Zipser said of the hulling plant proposal. "Let's not turn back 35 years of work for our No. 1 industry."

Monteith noted that 2,000 people live near the plant, in homes built many years ago.

"Maybe those homes shouldn't have been built," he said, "but they are there." He predicted that Modesto will be building more homes in the area within five to seven years, compounding the problems.

The proposed traffic signal needs approval from the California Department of Transportation, Monteith said, and there is no guarantee it will be approved.

"I don't want to put Stanislaus County on the hook. We should know what the alternative (to the traffic light) is before we vote on this," Monteith said.

Supervisor Jeff Grover said he believed objections to the environmental review were moot because the review wasn't required by law. The hulling association volunteered to go through the process to clarify the issues.

Rejecting the plant would set a bad precedent, Grover said.

"If a group of citizens with a narrow focus can change an allowable use, it changes the way agriculture goes forward," he said. "We are trying to grow an ag economy."

Supervisor Jim DeMartini said ag uses such as hulling plants are part of the tradeoff ranchette owners make to live in farm areas.

"Farmers not only have the right to farm, but to process their crops," DeMartini, himself a farmer, said.

Board Chairman Bill O'Brien said he was torn between the property rights of nearby residents and those of the hulling association, but ultimately sided with the association.

Chytilo said after the vote that Friends of the Central Valley would evaluate the conditions the board placed on the project before deciding whether to challenge the decision in court.

"Time will tell," he said. "We are disappointed the supervisors were willing to overlook such significant issues in approving this project."

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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