Jul 29, 2014
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New Lehigh Mine Gone From Proposal—For Now

The cement company withdraws plans for 210-acre pit mine; residents express worries about the possibility of another mine and give testimony about environmental impacts of the new plan.

New Lehigh Mine Gone From Proposal—For Now New Lehigh Mine Gone From Proposal—For Now

Lehigh Southwest Cement’s plan for a new 210-acre pit mine has been removed from the company’s latest public plans to reclaim and restore a portion of quarry land.

But it was not forgotten by residents at an environmental impact review (EIR) hearing held by Santa Clara County planners Tuesday night.

“No new stealth mine,” admonished Joyce Eden, head of West Valley Citizen’s Air Watch, during the hearing at the Quinlan Community Center in Cupertino. 

Los Altos Hills Mayor Ginger Summit, speaking not as an elected official but as a resident, called it “disingenuous” of the cement company not to state, up front, future plans for expansion of any new mine elsewhere on the company’s 3,500 acres in the foothills.

Lehigh officials did not address any new mining plans at the hearing and declined to be interviewed afterwards.

Reserving the option of future mining

In the reclamation plan document, however, the company stated: "To the extent that Lehigh's property outside of the RPA (reclamation plan amendment) area is valuable for future mining operations, Lehigh may develop them in the future." 

In June, against a backdrop of growing criticism from the public and state officials, Lehigh officials withdrew its earlier plan for expansion to a 210-acre South Quarry, just across Permanente Creek from the current North Quarry site.

“Lehigh intends to significantly reduce the scope of the current reclamation plan amendment in order to assist the county in the streamlining of the process,” Lehigh President Kari Saragusa said in a June 3 letter to county Planning Director Jody Hall Esser. He called it “a very difficult decision for Lehigh.”

In a letter from Esser to state mining officials dated the same day, she said the county was combining two reclamation plan amendments into one. The first amendment involved restoring the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA), where the company has deposited overburdened material for the past several years, and the other was mainly focused on the proposed South Quarry.

Move to ban Lehigh from state vendor list

for allowing the EMSA rock pile to accumulate. The county issued a notice of violation in 2008 over the company depositing there without seeking a permit first, but allowed Lehigh to continue the practice while it pursued a new reclamation plan amendment.

The county came under fire last month for allowing the company to pursue two reclamation plan amendments at the same time, when the state , a list of approved vendors that sell cement to the government.

State officials charged that Lehigh was out of compliance with its original 1985 reclamation plan, in part because of how long it had taken for it to be amended. Other state complaints included the previous move to pursue the two amendments.

, contending that the company is following all regulations. They charged state mining officials with using unwritten rules, among other things, as a rationale for removing them from the AB 3098 List. The action freezes the quarry’s removal from the state vendor list until a court issues a decision on the matter and Lehigh's business can continue as usual.

New reclamation plan

County planners and Lehigh officials told the crowd of around 40 people on Tuesday that the new reclamation plan amendment covers 811 acres. It includes a continuation of mining from the 265-acre North Quarry for 12 to 14 years, with a backfilling of the mine using rock from the West Materials Storage Area (WMSA).

Lehigh’s director of land use planning and permitting, Marvin Howell, testified that the view of the foothills on the western end of the property, which abuts the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, would be restored to how it looked prior to the start of mining in the late 1800s.

County planner Marina Rush said the elevation of the WMSA would be reduced from 1,975 feet to 1,850 feet. The EMSA would remain the same at its current 900 feet. The North Quarry, Howell said, will be filled in to come up to a similar elevation as Permanente Creek. The WMSA materials would serve to stabilize existing slopes.

Some of the North Quarry’s slopes experienced landslides more than 10 years ago, which were the focus of a 2006 county notice of violation to Lehigh, and were noted as an issue in the Department of Conservations AB 3098 notice.

Upcoming February hearing

Rush said planners expect a draft EIR to be completed by December of this year, with a hearing to take testimony before the county Planning Commission in February 2012, and a second commission hearing for a decision on the plan a month later. 

Just over a dozen residents from Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills shared with planners concerns they want to see included in the draft EIR. 

In addition to wanting to know plans for a future mine, other issues residents said they wanted included in the EIR:

  • Studies of soil and dust for toxic materials.
  • Inclusion of the cement kiln operations in the EIR; the plan currently only includes the North Quarry, WMSA, EMSA and related mining areas.
  • Studies of possible health effects of emissions and discharges from the quarry’s operations on the surrounding population. Summit specifically asked about water contamination—the focus of a —and expressed concern that discharges into Permanente Creek could contaminate ground water used by South County residents.

How to send comments on plan:

In addition to the verbal testimony taken at the hearing, Rush said the public may continue to comment through Sept. 26 via email or mail. The email address is permanentequarry@pln.sccgov.org. The mailing address is County of Santa Clara Planning Office, Attn: Marina Rush, 70 W. Hedding St., 7th Floor, East Wing, San Jose 95110.

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