The grumbling growl of gravel trucks is posed to drown out the peaceful sounds of nature along scenic Highway 33 near Ojai, pending protests from local community members.
Several residents of the Ojai and Cuyama Valleys are upset over the possible approval of three new sand and gravel mines proposed for the Cuyama River Valley and fear that the increased mine activity will result in a major increase of traffic on State Scenic Highway 33, which winds its way through Los Padres National Forest.
Both Santa Barbara County and Ventura County planning and development offices are accepting comments on the environmental impact reports of two of the mines and will ultimately decide whether or not to approve the plans.
Jeff Kuyper, the director of the Los Padres ForestWatch, said he is concerned about an additional flow of gravel trucks heading through the forest. LPFW is an organization dedicated to preserving the forest, which stretches from the Big Sur coast to the Sespe wildlands, from damage caused by oil drilling, illegal off-road vehicles, unmanaged livestock grazing, logging and other resource extraction.
“Peace and quiet and the prospect of more gravel trucks rumbling down the highway just don’t go together,” Kuyper said. “We have concerns about the truck traffic that already exists, so we have grave concerns about adding hundreds more.”
Diamond Rock Mine, the largest of the three proposed mines, is the first up for a permit. A recently released Environmental Impact Report states that the mine could result in an additional 138 trucks a day on Highway 33. This would be in addition to the estimated 118 trucks that already pass through the forest on a daily basis. If all three mines are approved, the resulting traffic could be over 500 truck trips a day.
Cherisse Troesh, who acts as the permit expeditor for Troesh Material Inc., the company responsible for the Diamond Rock Mine, said the economic benefits outweigh the complaints against the project. She said Highway 33 is a state highway, and one of its primary purposes is to move goods across the state.
“What is most important is the economic benefits received for a relatively poor local community in Cuyama,” Troesh said. “It’s frustrating that residents of Ojai – where impact is minimal – are causing such problems.”
The stretch of highway in question, which connects Ojai to Cuyama, is a state-approved scenic highway, as well as one of only four National Forest Scenic Byways in Southern California. It acts as the primary entrance into Los Padres National Forest, providing access to numerous trailheads and three federally protected wilderness areas.
Local community members were given a 45-day public review period after the release of the EIR earlier last month. While the majority of potentially affected residents live in Ventura County, the Diamond Rock Mine will potentially be located in Santa Barbara County, a fact that has resulted in a substantial flow of letters and complaints to the County of Santa Barbara Planning Dept., as well as at numerous town hall meetings in Ojai and Cuyama.
City officials in Ojai announced their absolute and unanimous opposition to the mining projects in a letter to the Santa Barbara County Planning Dept., stating that it would produce serious impacts to the health and welfare of their residents with no offsetting benefits.
Opponents of the mine fear that the increased truck traffic will reduce not only the aesthetic qualities of the forest but also the safety of its many visitors, since many of the trailheads and camping grounds are located directly next to the narrow highway.
“We take great pride in our community efforts to keep our home in Ventura County safe and aware of the constant threat of progress that so often knocks on the door,” Pam Murphy, a resident of Ojai for the past 15 years, said. “We are absolutely against [the proposed mines], as it would destroy the delicate balance that is already a huge problem, both with traffic and air quality.”
In addition, there is a 12-mile stretch of highway that runs along the Sespe Creek. The creek has been recommended by the National Forest Service for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the highest environmental protection a river can receive. How increased truck traffic will affect this process or vice versa is unknown, but Kuyper said he feels that at the very least, the trucks will complicate the efforts to protect the creek.