When do regulations to protect the public health go too far and public agencies become more of a hindrance than a help?
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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 [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.