Atascadero denies a gravel mine extension



After a lot of letters and two years of back and forth between a gravel miner and the city of Atascadero, Glenn Millhollin has struck bureaucratic bedrock.

On Dec. 10, the Atascadero City Council denied an appeal from Millhollin to extend an expired conditional use permit for the operation of his 7.6-acre gravel and base quarry on Santa Lucia Road in western Atascadero. Millhollin’s father originally broke ground there, starting a small-scale mine in 1945. As time went on, the operation grew, mining laws came to be, and houses were built in the area—many of which sit on parcels sold off by the family.

Eventually, the mine’s size and proximity to housing made its presence contentious, sparking a lawsuit. Finalized in 1996 between Millhollin and area neighbors, the suit gave Millhollin a six-to-15-year window to mine a maximum 120,000 yards of material. When that window closed in October 2011, only 70,000 yards had been mined.

With Community Development Director Warren Frace on one side of the dais and City Attorney Brian Pierik on the other, the city staff presented a thorough history of letters written to and from Millhollin, detailing several points in which Millhollin failed to comply with state requirements.

Jon Ansolabehere, Millhollin’s attorney, tried to dig holes in the staff’s case for denial, asserting that the applicant hadn’t yet removed the total amount of material originally permitted, and claiming vested rights. Millhollin was unable to attend the meeting due to a medical emergency in the family, according to his attorney.

“That is what [Millhollin] was permitted to do and that is all that he is asking for today—let him extract the remaining 50,000 cubic yards,” Ansolabehere said. “The main issue however … is the total amount of material that our client was allowed to extract.”

But Pierik listed several reasons for the permit’s denial, including the termination of the previous agreement after 15 years. Other grounds for denial cited by Pierik included no existing vested rights, no environmental review, and allegations of not complying with elements of California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act.

One major requirement for operating a mine is the submission of a plan and the funds needed for the site’s reclamation once mining is finished. The city has been holding the original financial assurance of $11,874, but Millhollin claimed no additional money would be required for additional reclamation. The staff disagreed, with an estimated cost totaling more than $200,000, and a third party estimate sitting at more than $100,000. While the numbers varied, Pierik told the council that it was still apparent the cost would be north of $100,000.

“I think that most of us, except for maybe Mr. Millhollin, can agree that zero is not adequate,” Pierik said. “We’re not talking about a small one-acre site, it’s 7.6 acres.”

Ansolabehere didn’t comment as to whether his client will pursue legal action.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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