There weren’t supposed to be any trucks going through Santa Margarita, but changes made internally and virtually silently by San Luis Obispo County planners have cleared the way for hundreds of gravel-haulers to roll through the small town on their way to the California Valley and SunPower’s California Valley Solar Ranch.
On Aug. 19, the SLO County Department of Planning and Building amended a traffic plan for SunPower’s 250-megawatt solar project proposed for construction in the California Valley. That amendment shifted the project’s proposed “aggregate” supplier from the Twisselman mine, located within miles of the project, to Hanson Aggregates located about 50 miles away in Santa Margarita.
The original plan would have had trucks haul aggregate from the Twisselman site just a few miles east on Highway 58 to the project site. However, the new route takes trucks down El Camino Real in Santa Margarita, through the town, through a crosswalk leading students to the Santa Margarita Elementary School, and out Highway 58.
“It’s an incredible impact to the community,” community activist Greg McMillan told New Times.
Except the community had no say on the new route.
The traffic plan dictating truck routes and the expected aggregate supplier was part of an Environmental Impact Report for the project, which was adopted by the county Planning Commission and approved on appeal to the Board of Supervisors April 19. But the new route wasn’t part of the plan, and Santa Margarita residents were given no chance to comment.
“We reviewed the transportation aspect of it, and it was our understanding that we wouldn’t be impacted, so we didn’t speak up on it,” said William Miller of the group Santa Margarita Area Residents Together (SMART).
According to the traffic plan, as many as 200 to 300 trucks can travel each day to deliver aggregate from the Twisselman mine to the SunPower site.
County planner and SunPower project manager John McKenzie said applicants for the Twisselman mine are still in the process of obtaining final permits, and approval of the mine could be months out. So the county and the company shifted the supplier to Hanson while the other mine is sorted out.
McKenzie called the traffic plan “kind of a living document that can be amended throughout the course of its life” and said this type of amendment happens occasionally as a ministerial zoning permit carried through without a public hearing. Though there will be more impacts from truck trips on Highway 58 because of the amendment, McKenzie said the hope is the Twisselman mine will eventually provide the aggregate and “in the long run … it will even out.”
According to SunPower, the EIR and conditional use permit analyzed the impacts of mining and transporting aggregate, but it wasn’t specific to a particular source. A spokeswoman said in an e-mail that SunPower is coordinating with the county and school district to avoid impacts during school hours. Additionally, she said, the company is maintaining records on truck traffic, in compliance with its permit.
Rowland and Catherine Twisselman didn’t return calls for comment. A representative from Hanson Aggregates also didn’t return a call for comment.