A public hearing was held during the July 7 Tulare County Supervisors meeting concerning the Papich Construction Asphalt Batch Plant Project. The asphalt plant has been operating out of a Public Works Staging Area in Goshen at Betty Dr. and Highway 99 on a temporary permit. The temporary permit was approved in 2013 so the asphalt plant could supply materials for the construction of the Betty Dr. interchange. On May 27 of this year, the Tulare County Planning Commission approved Papich’s request to make the asphalt plant permanent.
Houston Wells, owner of Glen Wells Construction, appealed the planning commission’s decision. Wells, and Mitchell Brown, of Mitchell Brown General Engineering, Inc., of Porterville along with other members of the community, attended the July 7 public hearing to oppose Papich’s permit. As an owner of commercial property in Goshen since the 1950’s, Wells’ objections to the asphalt plant were out of concern for the community of Goshen rather than any potential for competition. Wells is close to retiring so he is slowly getting out of the asphalt business. He believes that large companies take advantage of the fact that working people cannot get to the meetings to object to environmentally unfriendly plants.
“Well, it’s only Goshen” is a common phrase that angers Wells.
In his final comments after presenting his case in opposition to the Papich asphalt plant permit, Wells said, “I don’t want Goshen to be a dumping ground. I think the decision is all about money, but not much money for the county–just Papich. The county is getting the short end of the stick as far as wear and tear. We are beating our roads to death,” Wells said.
At the end of the public hearing Supervisor Allan Ishida recommended that Wells’ appeal be tentatively denied. He did recommend that the county staff address Wells’ and other business owners’ concerns about the special use permit and report back to the supervisors in two weeks.
Supervisor Steve Worthley closed the public hearing but said that individuals could comment on the findings at the July 21 meeting.
The Temporary Permit
In the spring of 2013, Papich Construction was given a temporary permit to supply asphalt for the Road 80 and Betty Dr. construction project along Highway 99. At the time, the county felt that having an asphalt plant onsite would be a money saving strategy. Not so say Brown and Wells. There are four asphalt companies in Tulare County, all of which reside at their rock source. Papich Construction costs are actually higher because they have to truck in their gravel from Orosi, 25 miles away.
Wells and Brown were told they could voice their concerns during a public hearing on the temporary permit in 2013, but none was held. Papich’s permit was approved through a streamlined process used when it involves a plant inside a Public Works Staging Area. Wells appealed the approval of the permit based on the fact that the application was incomplete, there was no traffic impact study, and the property was not being used as described in their application. During the appeal Wells and the other opposing parties backed off their opposition. According to Wells, the county guaranteed everyone that Papich Construction’s permit was only temporary until the Betty project was completed.
This fact is confirmed by an information letter for a “Public Works Staging Area” meeting. In the letter Michael Spata, then assistant Resource Management Agency (RMA) director, said, “There is a greater confidence and assurety that public project staging areas will not turn into a permanent outdoor storage or office use and there is less need to go through the formal hearing process to locate and approve these uses. With the large number of road projects that the county is working on currently as well as a number of their public projects being proposed, there is a need to have an expedited process to establish these staging areas so as to not jeopardize federal or state funding.”
Now that the Betty Dr. project is winding down, Papich wants to make their asphalt plant permanent. In their application they requested to expand their operation from 3,700 tons per day to 8,000 tons per day. The owners want to change their permit to allow on-site retail and commercial sales of their material. On May 27, Papich got his wish when the Tulare County Planning Commission approved the special use permit.
Special Use Permit Appealed
Normally those who oppose a project go to the planning commission meeting to make their case against approving the permit. But neither Wells, Brown or the other two asphalt companies knew the planning commission had Papich Construction on their agenda. Nor did they know that a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Papich Construction Asphalt Plant had been circulating for review for 45 days. Even though the RMA had all interested parties’ contact information, and promised all would be notified if any changes were discussed concerning Papich’s temporary permit, nobody was notified.
Part of Wells’ case against the permit was that neither Goshen School, nor any of the local businesses, or any of the interested parties who appealed the 2013 temporary permit, were notified about the planning commission’s meeting. Mike Washburn, current assistant director for the RMA, said public hearing notices were mailed out to business owners within 300 feet of the plant and a legal notice was put in the Visalia Times-Delta for one day.
But Wells biggest reason for filing an appeal echoes from permits past, such as CEMEX’ special Use Permit in Lemon Cove. Papich Construction has been visibly breaking the terms of their special use permit just as CEMEX did at the Stillwell Mine when four domestic wells went dry. Papich’s special use permit specifically states that materials produced at the plant are only to be used on the Road 80 and Betty Dr. projects. Yet Papich Construction has been widely advertising since 2013 their gravel products in magazines, online and in letters to potential customers for outside sales.
During the June 25, 2013 Tulare County Supervisors’ meeting both Supervisors Phil Cox and Steve Worthely questioned Papich, the plant’s owner, on evidence of their advertising gravel products to the public. Papich responded, “I can assure you that no retail sales other than what we sold to ourselves or proved ourselves on Highway 99 and Road 80 have taken place on this site.”
Yet, from 2013 to 2015 there were several instances when the company overtly sold materials to outside customers. In the first two weeks of June of this year, Papich Construction sold materials for the Cartmiill project in Tulare. Papich Construction even made a bid in 2013 to provide the building materials for an RMA project. When Wells confronted RMA about Papich selling the county gravel, Washburn’s response was that RMA did not accept their bid.
Wells asked the Board what the consequences were for a company who breaks the terms of their permit. Supervisor Worthley said, Papich had stopped advertising and now it was time to move forward.
Papich Construction isn’t the first, nor will it be the last construction firm to mislead Tulare County Supervisors.
But, as Wells said, “Rules without consequences are not rules at all.”
During the public hearing on his appeal Wells questioned RMA several times on their monitoring practices. Washburn, Dennis Lehman, Chief Building Official and the supervisors admitted that they do not have the staff to monitor their conditional or special use permits. When Wells questioned Lehman directly on staff available for monitoring, Lehman said there is a “code hotline.”
Wells’ reason for appealing was – if the county doesn’t have the staff to monitor the permits they already have, then why are they approving more? County residents’ health and safety are being looked after when the supervisors approve a mining or construction permit.
Wells appeal had four other major grounds for not approving a conditional use permit. He cited wear and tear on county roads, the effects of an asphalt plant on the surrounding farmland and the asphalt plant’s distance from its source of materials.
According to Mitch Brown, “Tulare County currently has four permitted asphalt plants and all of these plants are located at the source of the rock. Three of these sites are only running at 25-30 percent capacity, and one of the sites sits idle due to a lack of market demand.”
This begs the question why the county needs a fifth. Michael Durkee, the lawyer for Papich Construction, said that the asphalt plant will bring jobs and revenue to Tulare County. Brown countered by pointing out that the sales tax revenue will not change but will be redistributed from the existing asphalt plants to the Papich plant.
More importantly, all four currently permitted asphalt companies are located at their source of rock. Papich Construction is located 25 miles away from their rock source in Orosi. That is a round trip of 50 truck miles for every load of gravel. Emissions from these unnecessary truck trips must also be taken into consideration given the fact that the federal government is threatening to take over our local air boards because the San Joaquin Valley cannot meet basic air quality standards.
The county did do a Traffic Impact Study and a DEIR but concluded that there would be no significant impact on county roads. But the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control Districts disagrees with the county’s numbers. The air district calculates that if Papich Construction increases to 8,000 tons per day that would translate into 2,256,000 truck miles of emissions and wear and tear on county roads a year. The county counters that it will be 550,000 miles a year. Wells and Brown concur with the air district saying that the county’s numbers are wrong. “Just do the math,” Wells says.
In addition, Papich’s rock source in Orosi cannot supply 8,000 tons of gravel a day. Papich’s unknown gravel source needs to be factored into the traffic impact study and DEIR. Papich’s other source of gravel would allegedly come from Lemon Cove or Sanger which are further away than Orosi.
Washburn insists the county’s numbers are correct and pointed out that Papich Construction will be making significant improvements on Road 64. Road 68 is currently taking the brunt of the traffic but will be closed to through traffic by 2016 once the Betty interchange is complete.
Wells acknowledged that Papich Constructions has offered to pay $731,500 in constructions costs for road 64 improvements, but that is a small price to pay in order to get a special use permit. With permit in hand, the asphalt plant is worth eight to 10 million and Papich has already put it on the market. But, without the permit, the plant is worth close to nothing. In addition, it would cost Papich Construction $500,000 to move the plant if the county denies their special use permit. But Papich does not have a location in which to move. No one else will take an asphalt plant because it’s not an environmentally-friendly industry.
Wells’ appeal also contends that the effect of the asphalt plant on surrounding farmland has not been thoroughly investigated. Wells said you won’t hear birds, see any wildlife, or many plants at an asphalt plant because of the particulate matter produced when making asphalt. Washburn said that according to the DEIR that the plant will not reduce the viability of surrounding farmland. Wells countered that the DEIR was based upon data provided by Papich.
“No one really knows what the effect the fumes and particulate matter will be,” Wells said. “They are just saying everything will be OK.”