Cemex blamed for dry wells near California quarry

Residents local to Cemex Construction’s Stillwell gravel and sand mine just west of Lemon Cove want to Cemex to maintain pumping operations that ceased when the company left the site.

Resident says Tulare County Planning Commission should allow Cemex Construction Materials Pacific, to keep its surface-mining permit to operate the Stillwell Mine just west of Lemon Cove.

Neighbors of the 127-acres mine say that their residential wells are draining at alarming rates because the water is flowing into the quarry leaving some wells nearby with little or no water.

There was no problem when Cemex bought the active mine in 2008, because the company and it predecessor pumped most of the water flowing into the quarry to a nearby, half-mile long ditch, that neighbors said recharged their wells.

Neighbors said when the company stopped mining at Stillwell in June of last year and then stopped pumping water into the ditch the following September their well problems began.

Sara Engdahl, director of communications of Houston-based Cemex USA said the company has tried to work with the neighbors to help them with their water problems, even though the company maintains that its mining operations did not cause the wells to start running dry.

She noted that the properties with the most severe problems have wells that go only about 15 feet deep.

“When you have a shallow well, that’s going to impact your water level more than any operation that’s in close proximity. The people here who have deep wells don’t have water issues,” said Engdahl, who said company officials maintain the well problems are the result of the major drought that has plagued the Valley for the past three years.

In addition, she said, the water underground that feeds the neighbors’ wells comes from a different source than the water which fills the quarry, despite their proximity.

“This water has a certain makeup, as opposed to the neighbors’ water,” Engdahl said as she stood next to the quarry, that now looks like a small lake.

“There’s no nitrates in our water, but there are nitrates in the neighbors’ water.”
Cemex shut Stillwell mine because of a decline in new construction that impeded the demand for gravel and other building materials.

The county mining permit – originally issued in 2002, before CMEX took over mining there – does not specifiy the need the keep the pumps going if no mining was occurring at the site.

Tulare County Resource Management Agency Director Mike Spata said his agency has tried to work with both sides to develop an amicable solution, and and Cemex officials noted that their company has made an offer to the neighbors to pay half the cost of drilling a deeper well for residents on three of the properties.

Cairns noted that the property owners turned down an offer that would have had them paying thousands of dollars for their portion of the new well, and they would have had to sign agreements holding Cemex free from having committed any harm.

Since then, Engdahl said, Cemex officials have been unsuccessful in trying get the neighbors to meet with them again.

Cemex wants to keep its permit, as it is considering re-activating Stillwell Mine in light of the construction market bouncing back from the recent recession.

In addition, company officials noted that demand for construction aggregate is expected to skyrocket in the next few years, as not enough can be produced in California now just for construction of the state’s high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco.


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