By Dave Schwab
Residents along Mission Gorge raise complaints about concrete plant
There’s a quarrel over the Mission Gorge quarry, as some residents near Superior Ready Mix (SRM) on Mission Gorge Road are claiming the concrete plant is turning their neighborhood into a dust bowl.
“My house is just across the street from Superior and I’ve lived here since 2002 and I’ve always known it’s been bad with dust — but never how bad,” said Kirk Riley who lives across the street from SRM in Allied Gardens.
Riley only knew his car kept getting caked with dust, but didn’t understand why until a friend showed him aerial views of SRM taken from his plane.
“This is horrible,” reacted Riley. “This is bad. This is a health issue.
“Residents near Superior desperately want to get rid of the pollution and dust that plagues them,” Riley added and claimed neighbors have begun taking action. He said 30 official complaints have recently been made about SRM to the county Air Pollution Control District (APCD).
Additionally, more than 300 signatures are now on a petition demanding the APCD take more effective action to keep the neighborhood’s air clean.
“My main concern about the cement plant is how it’s affecting the San Diego River, which it is adjacent to,” said another SRM plant neighbor, Allen Bailey.
Bailey’s son did an award-winning school research project on the water quality of the San Diego River above, at, and downstream of the plant in 2002 for a county science fair. “It showed dead fish at the plant itself, and very high pH levels downstream from it,” Bailey said.
Bailey agreed that the dust situation is worsening.
“The area has progressively become covered with more and more concrete dust to the point where the black asphalt is almost white,” he said. “The entire area is inundated with it and the city of San Diego, the [Environmental Protection Agency], and other responsible agencies are doing absolutely nothing about this.”
Noting the quarry at 7500 Mission Gorge Road has been operating since the early 1940s supplying much-needed construction materials, SRM spokesperson Arnold Veldkamp said, “All of these (plant) activities are subject to stringent permit requirements from the APCD. These requirements include both control measures and special equipment to reduce dust emissions.”
Added Veldkamp, “The quarry and roads within the plant site are watered several times a day. Any ‘transfer points,’ where the rock goes from one point to another, such as a conveyor belt to a storage pile, are watered by a fine nozzle spray. Both the concrete batch plant and the asphalt plant have bag houses, which are essentially giant vacuum cleaners to capture dust. The APCD regularly inspects the plants to ensure compliance with the permit requirements.”
Veldkamp said SRM has gone beyond APCD requirements by: sweeping Mission Gorge three times a day with street sweepers; recently paving Superior’s interior street, an extension of Princess View, while installing a tire wash to remove the dirt from truck tires before they exit the quarry; being one of the first San Diego companies to install diesel particulate filters on their diesel trucks to reduce particulate emissions by up to 85 percent in 2008.
“Every year since, [SRM] has retired its older engines for the newest, cleanest engines available,” said Veldkamp. “In the past few years, Superior has begun converting its diesel engine fleet to natural gas engines with near-zero emissions.”
Concluded Veldkamp, “Superior wants to do its best by the communities it lives in and serves, and strives to protect the natural resources and environment of Mission Gorge Valley.”
Jessica Northrup, APCD spokesperson, confirmed that, since Aug. 3, 2018, the APCD has received 33 air-quality complaints from 28 residents surrounding SRM reporting dust from the plant.
“The APCD has conducted 13 inspections in 2018,” Northrup said. “These inspections were conducted to investigate the air-quality complaints, and to verify compliance with all applicable air pollution regulations, which include standards to minimize air pollution and protect public health.”
Northrup added the APCD documented some violations of applicable air pollution regulations by SRM issuing the following Notices of Violations (NOV): July 26 for failing to maintain all required records on site; Aug. 10 for not complying with a limit on usage of recycled asphalt pavement for the hot-mix asphalt plant; Aug. 24 for failing to properly maintain the control equipment (bag house) for the hot-mix asphalt plant; Sept. 7 for not maintaining their processing materials for the recycling plant by keeping them sufficiently wet (to prevent excessive dust); and Sept. 19 for failing to conduct quarterly visible emission evaluations for the bag houses at the rock-crushing plant.
“During these inspections, the APCD did not document any visible emission violations,” said Northrup. “As provided in state law, a NOV may result in monetary penalties, civil suit, or, in serious cases, criminal prosecution.”
Northrup said the APCD met with Superior Ready Mix on Sept. 24 to discuss the NOVs issued and the nature of the complaints investigated.
Riley and the other residents are expanding the discussion about the dust issue as well and have set up an email address for other residents who have experienced issues with the concrete plant. He said he urges people to contact email@example.com and share their complaints and add their names to the petition.
—Freelance writer Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.