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Quarry - Sparse Crowd At Hearing
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Concerned at the prospect of long, slow trains of railcars loaded with quarry rock bringing noise, dust and vibration besides snarling traffic at road crossings, Riverbank City Council hosted a special meeting at the Community Center on Thursday, Jan. 26 to hear public opinion but drew less than a score of residents.

Mayor Virginia Madueno commented perhaps residents had not heard about the meeting and its 5 p.m. start was too early for workers to attend. The city must do a better job in communicating with the public especially through contacting the schools and by hiring a public information officer, she said.

The City of Riverbank filed legal action last May, its attorney Doug White explained, when it discovered Tuolumne County had approved a plan by land owners Jack and Patricia Gardella and the Resource Exploration & Drilling Inc. Company to dig a quarry a few miles southeast of Knights Ferry and ship the rock by rail to the valley through Oakdale and Riverbank.

Cooperstown Quarry proponents anticipate trains could include as many as 60 rail cars and make up to 20 trips per week on the Sierra Northern Railway tracks. The permit allows the extraction of 56 million tons over the next 75 years.

White emphasized the city is not trying to stop the project but to gain a more detailed environmental review that would provide mitigation of the project's effects and protect communities along the tracks.

He is working on a settlement of the case he hopes to finalize within a few weeks and in the meantime wanted to hear Riverbank residents' concerns.

"I lost three relatives to silicosis. Every time the trains went through there was dust. You could see the railroad ties moving up and down and pushing up dust," said Leon Cantwell of Riverbank who used to live in a foothills town through which railcars carried ore. "It was so bad you couldn't raise a garden there. What would it do here to the school kids and all the people living along Patterson Road?"

White said dust was one of the problems he was seeking to control in the settlement. The trains, for instance, could be sprayed down before they entered city limits. He also wanted advance notice on the type of rock especially any that might contain asbestos or other carcinogenic substances.

Several speakers noted the tracks along Patterson Road through Riverbank have several road crossings without gates, creating a safety hazard.

Resident Scott McRitchie said the cities could not stop the railroad company using their tracks but they could ask for information on when the trains would come through. If it was a specific time at night for example, a police officer could be assigned to keep an eye on safety issues at that time. He noted the trains would pass close to Riverbank High School at Patterson and Claus roads.

Several speakers noted trains halted even for a few minutes on the tracks could not only exasperate motorists but block emergency services such as fire and police whose stations are located on the north side of town but also serve a large residential population living south of the tracks. The only way around would be via the Atchison Street viaduct.

John Buckley of Oakdale said his group Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center has also filed suit against Tuolumne County over the quarry project. While driving in Oakdale, he had been stuck at a crossing for five to six minutes. Coucilmember Richard O'Brien said he believed the railroad's policy was trains could not halt and block crossings for more than three minutes, but there is nothing in the rules to stop a train moving forward ten feet and stopping again.

Both Charles Neal and McRitchie urged the council against getting into further lengthy litigation in view of the number of expensive suits in which the city is already involved.