Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Quarry closes in dispute with Air Quality Management


ROB FINDLETON, owner of Snows Quarry near Camino, stands next to heavy equipment used at the quarry, which is now closed. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

From page A1 | March 22, 2013 | 23 Comments

When do regulations to protect the public health go too far and public agencies become more of a hindrance than a help?

That question is on the mind of Rob Findleton who wants to operate a quarry on Snows Road but finds himself in a stalemate with the El Dorado County Air Quality Management District.

A general engineering contractor by trade, Findleton closed his construction business in 2008 when the economy took a nosedive.

Looking for another source of income, he decided to reopen an old quarry on Snows Road that was operated in the 1850s as a gold mine and was later mined for sand and gravel.

“One of my greatest fears was overreaching regulations I would have to face,” he said, noting that he wasn’t concerned about learning something new, but rather with having to deal with so much bureaucracy and expense in trying to reopen the mine.

“You see, these people don’t care if you make any money or not. They want their part first. So it’s OK for me to risk my capital, my effort, as long as I pay them. Whether I succeed or fail is beside the point.”

Findleton decided to push ahead anyway and paid what he thought were all the fees and filed all the paperwork needed to reopen the quarry.

“We researched and tried to follow all the requirements because I didn’t want any problems,” he said. Those requirements included posting a $100,000 bond and preparing a reclamation plan, paying back fees and taxes amounting to $20,000, and complying with all the regulations of the State Mining and Geology Board. He said the mining board even sent him a letter saying he was in good standing and to go ahead with the operation.

Findleton also checked with El Dorado County. He said they gave him a checklist to be signed off by all the different county departments, which he did. He also pulled a business license and a weighmaster’s license. At the time, there was no mention of a need for an air quality permit.

He said he took control of the quarry in January 2012, but shortly thereafter received his first of three visits from the El Dorado County Air Quality Management District (AQMD) who said they had received a complaint about dust. He said at the time they were mucking out the sediment pond at the quarry to avoid any discharge. “You have to stay within the boundaries of water resources as well,” he said.

Findleton said during the visit he asked the officer from AQMD if she could see any dust, but she said no. The officer went on to say that she thought he needed a permit for the wash plant although Findleton believed the quarry to be exempt. At that point, he asked the officer to leave, but according to him, she responded by threatening to make his life miserable if he wouldn’t cooperate.

Findleton said he later called her boss at AQMD, Dave Johnston. However Johnston said he doubted his staff person made any such threats, saying his staff are all professionals.

In the course of talking to AQMD, Findleton claims he was also told the plant was probably exempt but he still needed to fill out a 28-page form. But after doing his own research, he began asking, “Why do I have to fill out some 28-page application that’s required for the permit and pay the fee that’s required for the permit when I’m exempt?”

At the end of last year, Findleton decided to close the quarry because of his dispute with AQMD. At the time he was employing four people. He said he hasn’t processed any materials since. In January he gave some material away but only charged for the loading. “There certainly was no dust or air pollution. No fugitive dust,” he said. “That’s the term they used. “I’m surprised you haven’t seen pictures of it at the post office, it’s so evil.”

Government for government’s sake

Aside from not being able to operate his business, he is upset about how government agencies have become an impediment to doing business.

A man who says he pretty much minds his own business and takes personal responsibility for his actions, Findleton said what he objects to is the growth in “agencies that have been empowered to go out and throw their weight around and extract money from businesses and (then) we wonder why we don’t have employment, we wonder why we don’t have a tax base, why we don’t have businesses.”

“If I had to do this again, there’s no way I would try to open a business,” he said. “It’s too difficult, too risky. They are there to take money from you, not to help you. They are there to help themselves. When agencies go into debt they don’t cut back, they just raise taxes. I don’t have a problem with being responsible for my actions that affect someone else, I’m willing to be accountable. But I’m not willing to support trumped-up agencies that are presented to public as being there for our own good. I’m not willing to be extorted and that’s what is going on here.

“There are five layers of agencies we have to pay fees to,” he noted, “and we pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees every year whether the plant is open or not.”

Findleton said he is not going to pay a fee or fill out papers for something that he believes is exempt. “Whether or not I open the plant depends on how hard they make it for me to be in business and they’ve done a very good job so far of convincing me I should not. If they legally serve me, I’ll have to turn it over to my attorney. But I don’t want to be bullied into something that they say is legally required but is basically for their own benefit.”

AQMD – everyone has to pay

Dave Johnston disagrees with Findleton, saying he is conducting an operation that requires a permit. “He may be exempt from some federal regulations, but not all of them and there are additional state and county ones he has to obey,” he added.

As a special district, the AQMD receives no general funds from the county although their board is the county Board of Supervisors. Permit fees pay for 50 percent of the district’s operations and 50 percent come from state funding sources.

Johnston says the quarry requires a permit to conduct a bulk material operation and Findleton also needs to file a dust mitigation plan with the district. There may be other things on site that may also require a permit due to air quality issues or because of dust or potential emissions from diesel burning equipment.

However, according to Findleton, the quarry only uses electricity to operate its equipment.

The cost for all these permits, according to the AQMD, includes a one-time fee of $337. In addition there is a yearly fee for an aggregate plant of $1,857 plus $60 per ton of particulate. If they are using diesel equipment, there would be additional fees.

Johnston said Findleton is currently facing a penalty of $368 for a violation notice served in February and he has until March 21 to meet with them and provide evidence that the violation is incorrect. If the issue is not settled, he said it would be referred to county counsel.

“We regulate five to six different aggregate mines in the county,” said Johnston. “We are trying to treat everyone fairly and equally. Everyone has to incur the same cost. We are here to create a level playing field and protect the public health.”

In the meantime, the quarry remains closed, Findleton feels a victim of government excess, and four people are still out of work.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.


Discussion | 23 comments

  • EldoradoMarch 21, 2013 - 5:32 pm

    People 0, government 1,000,000,000,000. I am always amazed with the amount of government we get for our tax dollars. I am so glad they write all of these laws to protect us from ourselves. Didn't I just read that the school population is dropping? Do you suppose that is because all the folks between 20 and 40, the ones with young children, are leaving to find less government and, therefore, jobs?

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  • James SmithMarch 21, 2013 - 6:58 pm

    Once he has complied with the local agency rules and regulations and these are small fees to pay, then the State Communist Agencies such as CARB, CalEPA and SWRCB will be knocking at his door with six-figure trumped up fines, more intimidation, threats and fear tactics. The SWRCB fined the Big Cut mine $900,000.00. The innocscent person that turned in the Big Cut mine was not a lone fisherman who stumbled across an alleged contaminated creek, but an ex-County D.O.T. employee. The government is conspiring using all of these environmental laws to take and confiscate people's property.

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  • cookie65March 21, 2013 - 8:08 pm

    It is not a question of "if" we will eventually have enough of being pushed around by a bunch of good for nothing bureaucrats with way too much authority and way to many taxpayer dollars in their lifetime pensions and healthcare. It is only a question of WHEN....Have I ever mentioned what I think of the public sector? "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."-Thomas Jefferson

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  • cookie65March 21, 2013 - 8:15 pm

    "Everyone has to incur the same cost." This is a priceless quote because it tells us the only motive of our insanely huge government. The only reason that cost exists is to redistribute wealth to people who couldn't hold a job in the private sector but fund the dems thru union dues. The exact definition of money laudering is confiscating private sector money and funneling it to the dems thru public sector union dues. Have I ever mentioned what I think of the public sector?

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  • MartinMarch 21, 2013 - 8:37 pm

    Look at what they are trying to do to the mining community, we came up with a way to mine the rivers not using a dredge and all of a sudden the following occurs, you’re not the only one that is being targeted by the do-gooders. A coalition including environmental organizations, fishermen and the Karuk tribe submitted a formal petition to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife today asking the agency to close a loophole it created allowing recreational miners to return to a technique called suction dredging by making equipment modifications that sidestep state law and worsen impacts to the environment. Because state wildlife officials narrowed state rules to define a suction dredge as a hose, motor and sluice box, miners are simply removing the sluice box — an alteration that leaves dredge spoils containing highly toxic mercury piling up along waterways. “The mining community is attempting to evade the will of the courts and the California legislature, both of which placed a moratorium on dredge mining until regulations that protect the environment can be developed,” All of the above is 100% false, an EIR was completed and Fish and Game made new rules that allowed us to resume dredging but the Sierra Fund didn’t like them so they sued to have them set aside. How can something like this happen without someone stepping in and putting a stop to this hypocrisy? EPA themselves have done studies including California waterways and found that 97.5% of all the fish that they caught had levels of selenium that countered any mercury absorbed by fish in the entire western hemisphere. Sierra Fund and associates have already cost the state of California millions of dollars; when are they going to stop?

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  • DarrinMarch 21, 2013 - 9:48 pm

    I think I saw some dust from the BS that the AQMD is throwing around.

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  • MartinMarch 21, 2013 - 10:31 pm

    Employment Opportunities at AQMD Just where I want to put my tax money.

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  • rodMarch 21, 2013 - 11:02 pm

    Only five layers of agencies? tomorrow there will be ten! NOTHING remains static with regulators, they're a parasitic serpent designed to intimidate or destroy businesses. And CA is the worse for it. Dare to out think them, find a way to exempt yourself like research & development, University experimental farm study,reclamation, or become a muslim and say your building a Moseleum... Or you can "liquidate and emmigrate this sorry state". Outdoor businesses are pretty much dinasaurs unless you can tie it in with agriculture, even then its a struggle. They are creating new laws and regs AS YOU READ THIS. Just be advised, when you hear them sweet talking you into a public/private partnership you know the gig is up. They will eventually take or tax you out of your property.

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  • LpMarch 21, 2013 - 11:14 pm

    Such bull****! Sorry for the "nasty word," I hope I Don't get fined, thrown in jail, for spitting on the street here in the "People's Republic of Placerville," let alone, say such a word...This town has gone to the dumps!!

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  • LpMarch 21, 2013 - 11:20 pm

    I don't trust any air I can't see. Really? Is it that nuts here in this state? Y'all bend over and keep taking this crap! You need to speak up, and make your voice heard!!!!

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  • Bill E.March 22, 2013 - 6:02 am

    The trigger was a complaint probably from a neighbor or some local activist type unhappy with the re-opening of the mine. It is the frivolous and confidential nature of unsubstantiated complaints that drive over regulation by government. The smaller the fiefdom, the greater the need to flex their regulatory muscles. Condolences to Mr. Findleton.

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  • francescaduchamp@att.netMarch 22, 2013 - 7:39 am

    come to our meeting on mon in Pollock--remember we are the poster child for this New Economy "visioning" being run by people NOT elected--supported by private and government persons. Who knows--maybe youll agree with them--maybe not....but you need to see it to decide. People have been told not to come...I live here--it is public town meeting...and I invite you.

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  • SteveMarch 22, 2013 - 10:28 am

    I agree that in this country, and more specifically this county, we are over taxed, often over regulated, and bureaucratically smothered. BUT, shouldn't Rob expect to have to follow air quality rules when his "business" will be moving thousands of tons of dirt? Mining in CA is a sensitive prospect right now (Unjustly) so following the rules would probably make his life easier. Its not like he's not going to still make a large profit. Snows quarry still has A LOT of gold in it. It looks like he is pouting over a few bucks...

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  • James SmithMarch 22, 2013 - 11:05 am

    EDC AQMD nailed the Lennar Valley View project, now called Blackstone and its contractor for a $350,000 fine a few years ago for working in naturally forming serpentine material. This is all about Government Burden, Control and Taxation.

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  • MtGuyMarch 22, 2013 - 11:53 am

    @Steve, blindly paying fees is one of the reasons we have so many. Because people say, "Should he pay his share? What is one more fee?" And I believe he is challenging the premise for the fees, more than the $300 dollars. Again, it isnt the amount, it is the principle.

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  • Joe530March 22, 2013 - 12:00 pm

    Steve, it is the principle of the matter, not the amount. He paid the fees and he paid the fees, and now they want more. How can you claim he is "pouting over a few bucks" when they are clearly trying to bully him and take what is his? If you were mugged and they only go away with $100 would you be satisfied with the police telling you that it's only $100 and to stop pouting about it?

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  • NancyMarch 22, 2013 - 4:26 pm

    Mr. Findleton, I'd like to make a suggestion: sell your quarry to some fat cat developer. They can fill it in with dirt and build socialist communities on it. The county Board of Supervisors will be happy to approve that for you since they like the idea of more tax revenues from new construction and don't give a hoot about traffic, crowds and wildlife encroachment. Take the money and go to a foreign country that will welcome your quarry and be glad to staff your mine with hard working people. Oh, and you just might be able to take some American workers with you because nobody here can find a job on account of the regulatory agencies. Then the American voter can sit around and complain and wonder why American companies and jobs going overseas.

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  • Underserved TaxpayerMarch 22, 2013 - 9:42 pm

    They need the fees so they can pay Neves the quiters $15,500 PER MONTH retirement.

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  • Thomas BangsMarch 23, 2013 - 10:11 am

    Another fine example of "our" government protecting us from these hooligans who actually produce a product, bring in a tax base, employ our fellow citizens while trying to squeeze out a bit of money for his own family. Its about time "our" Board of Supervisors actually step up for people like Mr. Findleton and help him make sure these sorely needed businesses stay here ........ instead of being swallowed up once again by that so called government of "ours" who insist on protecting us so much. Time for you to step up! This is exactly why we voted you in.......Do your job and be "our" government!

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  • francescaduchamp@att.netMarch 23, 2013 - 10:41 am

    Come to our meeting...I brought up the mill...the leader of CEDAPP said "...isnt that a Camino thing..." My response...we have the trees and I went and sat down. Pollock Pines economy was killed. We are 99% land. And all this group thinks about is trails. Thomas--our supervisor that lives 50 miles away is at our meetings. We have resources--they are not being used. Much like this man who tried to find another way--because he cant build--he went to his own property to survive...he was closed down any way. Come to the meeting--there is money--but you have to be a player--or get none? Now how American is that? Its his own property--he is a self started person...used his options...shouldnt we applaud that? Pollock Pines community center 6 mon. 25th

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  • EvelynMarch 26, 2013 - 8:46 am

    The "old economy" is being shut down to make way for the NEXT ECONOMY. The mother/father of the NEXT ECONOMY is the NEW AMERICAN ECONOMY - HERE - The folks at Microsoft, Walt Disney, Marriott Intl, Boeing & News Corp. know what best and will be sure they get it. ********** El Dorado County BOS signed on to the NEXT ECONOMY 3/12/2013, having not even seen "the Plan". Placerville City Council, however, did them one better, signing on first.

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  • EvelynMarch 26, 2013 - 8:50 am

    Sounds like Mr. Findleton put up a tidy chunk of change before hitting the final economic roadblock. Will the agencies that took his money give it back?

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  • EvelynMarch 26, 2013 - 8:53 am

    Immediately above I "misspoke". 'Twarnt an economic roadblock, but rather a bureaucratic one.

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