Quarry owner says fines are unfair | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Quarry owner says fines are unfair

Rick Chandler

The owner of a rock quarry which was fined recently by the El Dorado County Air Pollution Control District says that he has done nothing wrong, and that actions against his company are politically motivated.

Loring Brunius, who has owned and operated the Sierra Rock quarry near Placerville for 25 years, said that he is being unfairly singled out by the county’s Department of Environmental Management, which fined him $25,000 recently for a violation of the county’s air pollution control permit – that is, stirring up too much dust.

“I feel that we have been placed in an unfair position,” said Brunius. “The county said that they wanted us to amend our dust mitigation plan, but they haven’t told us exactly what to amend. Also, this is a prospective fine. As of now we have not been fined at all.”

Sierra Rock is one of three mines in El Dorado County which excavates and crushes rock that is used in rural road bed construction and landscaping. County Environmental Management Director Jon Morgan, who doubles as the Air Pollution Control Chief, said that Sierra Rock has been in violation of the county’s air pollution control standards several times in the past, and has not brought their operation up to code despite several warnings.

“The fine was in response to an accumulation of milestones they (Sierra Rock) did not meet,” Morgan said. “They still have to comply with the county guidelines, and they have not done so yet.”

But Brunius maintains that he has done everything he was asked to do. Mining operations are typically required to dampen access roads and water down machinery so as to keep down dust levels.

“I don’t believe there is a problem,” Loring said. “We’ve had a dust plan all along, and we’ve documented everything we’ve done. And up until eight years ago, there has never been a complaint.”

It was eight years ago that a family purchased a home near the quarry. According to Brunius, it is that homeowner who started all the fuss.

“We are going to court next month with this neighbor over the dust issue,” Brunius said. “This is politically motivated. They are the kingpin of this whole problem. They’re stirring the pot. I have no real quarrel with doing the right thing. I’m not trying to poison the world.”

According to the California Health and Safety Code, air emission violators are liable for civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day, and willful violators can be fined $50,000 per day. Although Brunius claims that his is a “prospective” fine, the “notice of violations and penalty” document issued by Environmental Management reads that: “the District is willing to settle civil penalties through a mutual settlement process … the District is willing to settle your liability for past violations described above for $25,000.”

Brunius said that a scheduled hearing between himself and Environmental Management this week had to be postponed due to a death in the family. The total of the fine can be negotiated at the hearing, but Brunius has indeed been fined, according to the polution control district.

Quarry dust is a sore subject in El Dorado County due to the asbestos issue. After a lengthy public debate last month, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors declined to lower permissible asbestos levels in rock and dust samples from 5 percent to 1 percent.

Asbestos, which is found in serpentine rock formations, can contain fibrous tremolite, which are needlelike particles which at certain levels of exposure are associated with mesothelioma, an inoperable cancer of the membranes lining the lungs and chest.

Some county residents claim that prolonged exposure to this airborne serpentine dust, which is kicked up by local quarries as well as in construction activities, is a major health risk.

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