Members of the Protect Our South Sutter Environment (POSSE) are raising concerns over a recent truck yard study conducted on behalf of Sutter County meant to look at the operational effects of truck yards — both current and proposed — in south Sutter County.
There are currently 10 truck yard facilities located primarily along the Highway 99 corridor in south Sutter County. There are also pending applications for one similar facility and expansions of two of the existing facilities.
Attorney Michael Steel, who submitted a letter to the Sutter County Board of Supervisors on behalf of POSSE members, said nearby residents and students (Barry Elementary School) are being exposed to unacceptable cancer risk, unsafe traffic, noise and possible groundwater contamination due to the truck yards that operate 24/7 and make what was once a quiet and peaceful area of orchards unsafe.
“The study is just one more example of how staff has ignored the health and safety of area residents and students in order to save some money for a few truck yard owners,” Steel said. “As you know, the (Sutter County) Grand Jury uncovered a pattern of staff allowing violations of permits and zoning rules to go on for years, with little or no effort to take enforcement. The study fits right in with staff’s willingness to put people’s lives at risk in order to help out a handful of wealthy truck yard owners.”
The POSSE is an informal group of neighbors and parents who live near the truck yards located just south of Yuba City along Highway 99. Steel said the group formed a few years ago as more and more truck yards started to pop up in the area.
Sutter County hired ESA (Environmental Science Associates) out of Sacramento to conduct the truck yard study, which was completed in February.
Summary of findings
The study was conducted to help officials better understand the effects of operation for the existing facilities, and to determine potential cumulative effects of operation of existing and proposed truck yards in terms of air quality, health risk, hydrology, lighting, noise, and traffic conditions.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides from three of the existing yards currently exceed the Feather River Air Quality Management District thresholds of significance. Emissions that would result from construction and operation of each of the proposed truck yards wouldn’t exceed the threshold, though it was found that emissions from one of the proposed expansion projects would.
Health risks were evaluated starting with the construction period for the proposed truck yards and extended to 30 years of operations. The modeling for the operation of the existing 10 truck yards calculated that the cancer risk at the maximally exposed individual resident is 101.4 in one million, which exceeds the cumulative threshold of some established air quality standards though the chronic hazard index did not exceed the threshold. The health risks were the same with regards to the three proposed new and expanded yards.
An assessment of hydrologic conditions in the dry season of August 2020 determined that the truck yards were not in compliance with the state’s Industrial Stormwater Permit Program, though none showed signs of poor drainage.
Lighting observations during site visits indicated some of the truck yards had bright stadium lighting that did not fit in with the character of the surrounding land uses, and some of the existing yards were operating in violation of their permit conditions to include shielding on light fixtures. One of the yards that has not been permitted by the county is operating with lighting that spills over the site boundaries onto adjacent sites and onto public rights of way.
An analysis of long-term noise level measurements found that construction of the proposed yards would not likely result in impacts from construction noise or vibration, and the noise that could result from operations could be reduced through a combination of measures. Operational roadway noise from the cumulative operation of existing and proposed truck yards would not significantly increase noise levels along local roadways.
Lastly, a traffic study was conducted at three intersections (Highway 99/Reed Road, Highway 99/Walnut Avenue, and Highway 99/Oswald Road) and found that vehicle delays would increase but not to a level that exceeds the county’s adopted threshold.
The consultant provided a total of 27 recommendations to reduce the impacts and risks that could result from the existing and proposed truck yards.
A public comment period for the study ended on March 31. The POSSE submitted comments to the board highlighting the county’s recognition of the health and safety problems posed by the “unpermitted and/or non-compliant” truck activities in the Oswald-Barry Road area.
The letter stated the report significantly understated the adverse impacts caused by trucking operations because county staff omitted key information and even provided incorrect information to the consultant.
The group also stated the air quality analysis shows that existing and future yards pose a serious cancer risk to children and other area residents; the study fails to examine all reasonably foreseeable probable future projects; and that staff improperly classified projects currently under consideration as exempt from CEQA because they require only “design review.”
“The bottom line is that the study — even though it attempts to white-wash the impacts of these truck yards — shows that there are very serious problems that staff continues to try to hide from the public,” Steel said. “The board needs to show leadership and take action to set things right.”
Steel said the group is requesting that the board reject any new or expanded yards until the cumulative impacts of the existing yards are reduced to a level that is safe for residents and students. They are asking for County Counsel or the District Attorney to take action to make sure that illegal yards cease operations. They are asking for the board to send the study back to the consultant and for staff to hold a workshop to allow the community to provide accurate information to the consultant. Lastly, they are requesting the board appoint new leadership to the Development Services Department.
County officials did not respond directly to the POSSE’s assertions when requested by the Appeal.
“We are currently in the process of reviewing the comments that we received and then we will meet with our consultant to determine what, if any, additional study is needed,” said Neal Hay, director of Development Services for the county. “Once we complete the follow-up coordination, my department will prepare a staff report to bring the final study before the board for consideration and approval.”
Hay said he’ll have a better estimate of the timeline moving forward once his department concludes its discussion with the consultant.