Planning Commission denies permit for soil processing and distribution facility

The Colusa County Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny a permit for Westside Spreading LLC to operate a soil amendment processing and distribution facility outside of Arbuckle, bringing a seven-month long dispute between the company’s owner and a neighboring family to at least a temporary close.

Planning Commission Chair Steve Vanderpan, himself an Arbuckle resident, was the only commissioner to offer an expanded explanation for his decision to vote against issuing a use permit, stating the he had some “real problems” with the project.

“That the whole operation started before permits were ever granted – that bugs me,” Vanderpan said.

The issue dates back to September 2016, when county staff first received a complaint from Curtis and Sandra Pyle, the neighbors to the east of the Westside Spreading property, regarding what they believed to be a composting operation next to their property on Wisconsin Avenue. The day after receiving the complaint, county staff visited the site, and determined that a staff-level Administrative Permit was needed from the Planning Department for the soil amendment processing and distribution facility to continue operation on a property zoned Exclusive Agriculture.

According to the report submitted to the planning commissioners, staff spoke with the owner of the property and Westside Spreading, Suellen Witham, the day after the first complaint was received. Witham acknowledged the need for a permit and agreed to cease all activities at the site until a determination was made. Witham applied for an Administrative Permit on Oct. 3, 2016, and a draft permit was prepared and delivered to Witham on Oct. 5, which included conditions to reduce impacts on the Pyle’s neighboring property. Witham reviewed and signed the draft permit on Oct. 6, and the Pyles wrote and submitted a letter objecting to the document’s approval a week later.

Planning Department staff ultimately decided that planning commission approval, rather than staff-level approval, was appropriate for the permit, and first brought the item before the commission in November. That public hearing was continued to January, and again to this month’s meeting. The commission requested that staff conduct additional analysis of a number of potential environmental impacts.

Last Wednesday’s public hearing, continued from the January meeting of the Colusa County Planning Commission, included analysis of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The CEQA document identified a number of potential environmental impacts and mitigation measures. Among the more significant potential impacts were the generation of dust and particulate matter and water runoff.

While the CEQA document did offer measures to mitigate those environmental impacts to less than significant, Vanderpan expressed doubts that mitigation measures would be effective. He also expressed concerns about significant truck traffic on an already poorly maintained Wisconsin Avenue before he called for a vote.

After her permit application was denied, Witham said that she was disappointed with the result, and unsure whether she would appeal the planning commission’s decision to the Colusa County Board of Supervisors.

“Of course I was disappointed. But I know how much great benefit agriculture has gotten out of the use of compost over the last decade, and I know the future of compost is great,” Witham said after the meeting. “Our governor has his healthy soil initiative, and compost is still popular. I just want to make sure there is a good supply for Colusa County and all neighboring counties. I definitely believe in compost, and see great things it’s done for my customers.”

“I’m just thrilled that the commissioners saw the truth for what it was, and followed through and got the job done,” Curtis Pyle said after the meeting. “It was a long road to hoe, and the county bent over backwards to try to accommodate her. I’m sure happy it came out the way it did.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net