North / South America
Lehigh Cement plan in hands of county planning commission
May, 23 2012
(California) -- Commissioners will consider passage of plan to reclaim 639 acres of Lehigh's quarry over the next 20 years.
A controversial plan to reclaim areas of the Lehigh Southwest Cement Permanente Quarry over the next 20 years now sits in the laps of the seven Santa Clara County Planning Commissioners, who will possibly make a decision at a public hearing this Thursday, May 24.
The clock is ticking for the cement company, which is under pressure from the state Office of Mine Reclamation to get an amendment passed to the quarry’s original 1985 reclamation plan. Lehigh could possibly lose its right to sell cement and quarry products to public agencies without swift passage of the amended plan.
On Friday, May 18, the Planning Commission heard an outline of the main issues for the lengthy and highly detailed plan, as well as questions from the public. Several Los Altos Hills and Cupertino residents from three different local activist groups asked questions at the workshop.
Some residents expressed concern that the county was moving too quickly to pass the reclamation plan and the accompanying environmental impact report (EIR). They pointed to highly critical comments by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board submitted earlier this year suggesting the draft EIR be re-circulated for further study and comments.
Planning Commissioner John Vidovich himself raised that question on Friday. While most of the commissioners listened and asked only a few questions, the Los Altos Hills real estate developer asked numerous questions and expressed interest in expanding the reclamation plan boundaries to pursue an alternative plan for eventually filling in the main quarry pit on Lehigh’s property.
The reclamation plan amendment Lehigh submitted focuses on reclaiming 639 areas of mining disturbed area, which includes eventually backfilling the main quarry pit with overburdened material from the West Material Storage Area (WMSA), closest to Los Altos Hills.
The plan also includes capping and planting the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA), which is adjacent to Rancho San Antonio County Park and currently is visible from Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino as a large gray rock pile.
In addition, Lehigh would have to begin immediate restoration of Permanente Creek, which currently is listed by the federal government as an impaired waterway for levels of selenium above standards considered safe for wildlife. A lawsuit against Lehigh filed by the Sierra Club under the Clean Water Act is ongoing, while simultaneously being investigated by the regional water quality control board.
Some local activists suggested in the past that the selenium runoff from quarried limestone used in the cement-making process could contaminate drinking water. On Friday planners said their investigations found no high levels of selenium in valley wells closest to the quarry, and they said the quarry itself sits in a bedrock aquifer, separate from an alluvium aquifer in Santa Clara Valley.
Lehigh officials submitted three previous plan amendments in 2007, 2008, and 2010, in response to notices of violation concerning issues with WMSA, the main pit, and EMSA, but none successfully made it as far as the current amendment.
Two of those amendments, submitted in 2007 and 2010, included plans for a new 200-acre pit mine south of the main pit, just across Permanente Creek. Local residents were extremely vocal in protesting the mine.
Last summer Lehigh officials withdrew the plan, informing the county they would not pursue the new mine, and a new reclamation plan amendment was submitted omitting work south of the creek.
Vidovich, however, said he was interested in pursuing a plan where material from the southern portion of the property would be used to fill in the current mine, starting about 10 years from now. He suggested instability of the main pits walls to the north—which triggered an earlier notice of violation—could be stabilized better than using WMSA materials.
“If they were allowed to open up some of the land to the south I think we would wind up with a better reclaimed site,” he said.
Vidovich posed the question to Lehigh’s director of land use planning and permitting, Marvin Howell, who answered, “I don’t see mining elsewhere on the property as facilitating stabilization of the pit. We have a way to stabilize the pit in the proposed project.”
Because Vidovich’s suggested plan sits outside of the plan’s current proposed boundaries, any change of that magnitude would force further study and public comment, delaying the amendment further.
If planning commissioners do not take a vote on Thursday, the matter could be continued to 5:30 p.m., Thursday, May 31.
Thursday's public hearing takes place 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.
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