Hoping to provide local contractors with a closer option for recycled asphalt and concrete, Lunny Grading & Paving, which operates a rock quarry in Nicasio, is working to amend its use permit. 

The quarry, which has been in operation since at least the 1970s, is currently allowed to extract and process 7,400 cubic yards of rock a year under its 2001 use permit. It largely quarries greenstone, a type of igneous rock, transforming it into rip rap, crushed aggregate, base rock and more for projects such as stream bank protection and erosion control, driveways and foundations. 

Kevin Lunny has owned the quarry since 1998. He said the small operation serves only West Marin contractors, including his own paving company, producing in a year what the quarry in San Rafael produces in a week. 

“This is a small quarry in West Marin that only services West Marin. Our cost of production, because we’re so small, is higher than the big quarries, so our prices are higher,” he said. 

Yet West Marin contractors must travel to Cotati, Richmond or elsewhere to unload construction waste and buy recycled building material, cutting significantly into any cost savings. Both the county and the state generally require that 65 percent of waste from new, permitted construction, remodel and demolition projects be recycled.

Mr. Lunny said the proposed amendment to his permit would allow him to meet an existing demand for recycled material. The current permit has no explicit allowance for accepting leftover or waste material from new construction, remodels, demolition projects or road work.

Recycling these materials by turning them into aggregate for sale would offer advantages, he said. Importantly, it would “preserve our nonrenewable resource.” 

“Reusing what we already have in West Marin makes a lot of sense environmentally,” he said.

Recycled rock is also significantly cheaper, since it doesn’t need to be drilled, blasted and quarried with heavy equipment.

Ismael Gutierrez, a contractor who owns Inverness Gardening Service, has workers travel to Sonoma when customers chose recycled material, and to drop off material from his own projects. Doing so comes with costs: for fuel, for the wear and tear on vehicles traveling far with heavy materials, and for paying drivers for the long trip. 

If there were a closer option, “I think we will use it more, and we will give better prices to our clients,” he said. “It benefits the community. It helps everyone.”

Mr. Lunny’s application asks that the quarry be allowed to bring in up to 4,000 cubic yards of unfinished rock to crush and turn into usable material, and up to 2,500 cubic yards of finished material to sell. In turn, the quarry would reduce the amount it extracts each year, such that the amount of material both imported and excavated stays below the current 7,400 cubic-yard cap. The change would modestly increase the number of trucks allowed monthly, from 300 to 325. 

In exchange for extracting less rock each year, Mr. Lunny hopes to extend his reclamation date—that is, the year quarry operations must cease based on state-mandated estimates of available resources—from 2027 to 2032. 

Under state law, quarries must have a reclamation plan to ensure, among other things, that the business has a plan and the financial wherewithal for closure, cleanup and restoration. The Nicasio quarry’s 6.4-acre site will be converted to grazing land when it ceases operation, as the property is zoned for agriculture. 

Extending the reclamation date would help keep the quarry in business a few more years, Mr. Lunny said, but it would also serve the community. Once the quarry closes, contractors will have to travel farther to acquire building material. 

And that’s for those who can acquire quarried material from the bigger operations, Mr. Lunny added. “Tons of these guys come in with their pickups doing small jobs,” the kinds of jobs that larger contractors aren’t interested in, he said. But big quarries, like the one in San Rafael, “won’t load a little pickup trailer,” he said.

John Hope, a contractor in Inverness, said the longer the quarry remains open, the better. Without the operation, “The next place you’re going is an hour away from there, and you have to go there and back,” he said. “So that’s an extra two hours every time you want rock. It’s a huge expense, and it will be passed on to everybody. It’s an expense to us contractors, and also to customers.” 

The county is currently evaluating whether the quarry’s current environmental document, a mitigated negative declaration, can be amended, or whether a new one is needed. County planner Michele Levenson expected the determination, made in consultation with county counsel, to be announced within a month. 

“It’s important to note that public participation will occur during environmental review, regardless of which route is taken, as well as when the use permit amendment is considered by the county. So there will be opportunities for review and public comment,” she said.

Members of the design review committee of the Nicasio Landowners Association took a tour of the site after learning of the amendment application last month. 

Steve Lewis, the association’s president, said the group is still developing its stance, though he noted that it was “interested in trying to make sure, from a community view, that the activities that are proposed comply with existing zoning.” 

“Selling material not mined on the property may fall outside of what is permitted for [agricultural, residential planned] use. That’s just one of the things the county may be looking at,” he said.

In his application, Mr. Lunny said he believed the mitigated negative declaration could simply be amended, asserting there would be no “new or substantially increased adverse impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.” In fact, the application states, the changes would be environmentally beneficial, since the contractors served by the quarry would travel shorter distances to drop off or buy recycled material.

Mr. Lunny was surprised and concerned that the determination could become more complicated. “We thought environmental review was going to be super simple,” he said. “But now the county’s saying it might be a little more rigorous than we expected, which worries us. It’s such a small change. It doesn’t really change the environmental effects, in our opinion. It’s not going to justify a big expense.” 

If it turns out that amending his permit triggers a complex and costly environmental review, “we’re probably not going to be able to move forward,” he said.