The Austin Quarry project was a proposed greenfield hard rock quarry development and associated aggregate processing facilities on a 356-acre site in southwestern Madera County, California. The project includes construction of off-site road improvements and installation of utility infrastructure. Project mitigation requires the applicant to establish an adjacent 500-acre conservation area to mitigate biological resources impacts. The permit would allow sales of up to 2.5 million tons of aggregate per year and an operational life of 100 years. Reclamation of the site once mining is completed would restore the majority of the project site to open space and dryland grazing uses. The project included a groundwater recharge program using stormwater collected on site that would provide for groundwater recharge equal to or exceed the groundwater consumption of the project.
The project garnered significant community involvement and the environmental review process extended over several years, with over 10,000 pages of evaluations and public comment. Area residents expressed concerns regarding project-related water use, traffic on area roads, noise, visual impacts, loss of biological resources habitat, and air pollutant emissions associated with traffic and quarry operations. Potential impacts on groundwater and surface water, including potential overdraft of the groundwater aquifer, required hydrological evaluation and consideration of options for minimizing impacts.
Benchmark Resources was contracted by Madera County to lead the County’s CEQA analysis. We conducted a thorough review of the project application materials, and peer reviewed the applicant’s technical studies to determine their adequacy in supporting the analysis needed for the EIR. Benchmark assisted County staff with EIR scoping meeting. We also prepared the draft, revised draft, and final EIR. Benchmark Resources also assisted the County in preparing conditions of approval, a mitigation monitoring and reporting program, findings, staff reports, and presentations for Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings.
The Benchmark Resources’ team developed a stormwater collection and groundwater recharge concept acceptable to both County staff and the applicant. Developing project-design options for a private project when under contract to a lead agency for environmental review is not a typical service provided the EIR consultants. However, both the City and applicant recognized that the Benchmark Resources’ team had the expertise and ability to most effectively develop the concept, and the concept was integrated into the project design.