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Miner’s Ravine critic refuses to bend on toxic concerns

Placer County officials still investigating site that hasn’t yielded any toxins yet
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Despite a Placer County Board of Supervisors vote of support in August for a 64-unit Silver Bend Way affordable housing project, community activist and Miner’s Ravine critic Dale Smith is fighting on. Smith said that he’s still particularly concerned about the possibility of toxic substances that may need a full-scale and expensive cleanup on the 6-acre Miner’s Ravine site. County officials report that nothing has turned up at this point but more tests have been taking place on the county-owned property. Jim LoBue, Placer County Redevelopment Agency deputy director, said that while none of the studies have borne out any of Smith’s suspicions, no development will take place until the experts are convinced the site is safe. Sidestepping any issues surrounding poisons and toxins in the ground could prove expensive for the county, Smith said in a letter to the County Counsel’s Office last week. Smith is looking for copies of government records surrounding the Aug. 10 approval of the Miner’s Ravine project by the Board of Supervisors. In his latest filing with the county, Smith has also provided an aerial photo from 1952 and 1930s-era hand-drawn maps that he contends show a pear orchard and settling pond that could have produced toxins during the farming process. At the August hearing, Environmental Health Director Jill Pahl said a staff review found the settling pond was not located on the Silver Bend Way property. Smith and his business Alfa Omega Associates have worked in the past for opponents of affordable housing at the site, including Residents Against Inconsistent Development. This time around, Smith said he’s not working with the group. Smith said that his impression is that it’s disbanding. Michelle Ollar-Burris, one of the early RAID organizers and a neighbor of the Silver Bend Way site, said she’s chosen not to take part. In fact, the former county planning commissioner and her husband, Wes, have their 11.9-acre property listed for sale. Smith said that he’s involved again because he wants to help. “I’ll make a little bit out of it for research,” Smith said, adding that he wants to keep confidential the people who are paying him. First broached a decade ago, an earlier Silver Bend Way affordable apartment project called for 72 units and ended up in Placer County Superior Court with a settlement. The agreement required market-rate apartments if construction proceeded. The previous builder never started construction and when the settlement agreement expired in 2008, the county again moved ahead on an affordable housing project. USA Properties, a low-income housing developer, was chosen a year ago to find funding and build the project. LoBue said that state and federal funding would require assurances the land was free of toxic waste. “If we find a serious problem, any costs for mitigation would have to go back to the Board of Supervisors on how to pay,” LoBue said. In the meantime, Smith said he wants to work together with the county to ensure a toxics investigation and any mitigation is done properly and legally. “If testing proves (a cleanup) isn’t necessary, I would be very happy,” Smith said. Because he appealed the project, Smith also has a year after the Aug. 10 vote by supervisors to take the county on in court. That isn’t being considered at the moment, Smith said. “It’s very expensive, time-consuming and a painful process,” he said. “Let’s see if they can do the necessary investigation and remove the dark cloud hanging over this.”