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County Seeks Input on New 210-acre Lehigh Pit Mine

County planners will host a public meeting Wednesday, 7-9 p.m. in Cupertino.

What environmental issues do 1.7 million neighbors of the Lehigh Southwest Cement plant and quarry want studied as the company plans a new 210-acre pit mine in the foothills just outside Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills?

Santa Clara County planners want to know. They will host a meeting called a “Public Scoping Session” Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. in the Cupertino Room of the Quinlan Center, 10185 N. Stelling Rd. Planners say they want to hear what information citizens think should be included in an environmental impact report (EIR).

In addition to the proposed pit mine, the report will also address a reclamation plan amendment to the quarry's 1985 Reclamation Plan.  A reclamation plan addresses how the land will be eventually be "reclaimed."

Interest in Lehigh’s activities has grown over the last several months, and recent public meetings have been packed. The –during which supervisors voted to give the company vested rights for mining activities on most of its land—was standing room only, with the crowd overflowing to a neighboring room.

Some of the environmental issues that will most likely come up at Wednesday's meeting include the following:

  • Visual impact: A portion of the new pit mine will be visible from the valley floor, according to a planning report. Specifically, planners said they want to know from citizens which viewpoints should be used in the EIR for a visual impact analysis.
  • Water quality:  (NOV) by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board charge that “Lehigh discharges hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons per day of unpermitted, non-storm water” into Permanente Creek. The board said that silt and sediment from quarry practices is flowing unfettered into the creek. Lehigh officials have denied the charges. The same NOV report stated that Lehigh is exceeding the limits of selenium discharged into the creek and has not adequately addressed how it will control the toxin. Selenium has been shown to cause problems in fish and wetland birds.
  • Air quality: The EIR will explore how dust generation and emissions related to mining may affect the surrounding atmosphere. The cement kiln is a separate operation so the EIR will not explore the impacts of those emissions. Expect citizens and watchdog groups to bring up the cement kiln on Wednesday anyway, because the quarried limestone is burned in the neighboring cement kiln, emitting mercury and other toxins into the air.
  • Geology and Soils: The water board report and testimony given at a recent State Mining and Geology Board meeting calls into question how past owners controlled erosion and slope stability of the piles of unused quarry rock, called “overburden." 
  • Reclamation: How Lehigh reclaims the quarried land will be addressed in the EIR. One issue local environmental groups have complained about in the past is that owners have not adequately reclaimed land in what’s known as the West Materials Storage Area, located closer to Los Altos Hills. Lehigh officials have said they are taking steps to improve the look of the area, but that it will take time.

In addition to exploring potential environmental impacts, every EIR includes “a range of reasonable alternatives,” according to the county report. Planners will consider “Reduced Scale,” as well as “No Project” alternatives.

Paula Wallis March 30, 2011 at 06:30 PM
Why should we reward this facility, by granting its expansion plans, when it has broken just about every contract it has made with the people of California, and currently has outstanding Air, Water and Land violations? Rather than abide by the regulations imposed to protect the environment and public health, this plant and quarry finds it more beneficial to break the laws and get into long protracted negotiations with regulatory agencies to reach some settlement, all the while the violation continues. The record in this case shows that the regulatory agencies would rather negotiate with the offender, than enforce the laws and impose penalties. As long as the two sides are negotiating, the facility can operate in violation of its permits, and can say that it is in compliance. It is a clever way for businesses to skirt the laws and for the regulatory agencies to appear to be enforcing them. We certainly need cement, but not from this facility, which clearly demonstrates a contempt for laws designed to limit its impact on the environment, and public health.
Susan March 30, 2011 at 06:33 PM
Thank you for keeping the community informed, and allowing people to exercise their 1st Amendment Right. Our traditional news sources, the San Jose Mercury News and Cupertino Courier, FAILED to notice this important meeting, FAILED to report the egregious Water Board NOV (Lehigh discharges hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons per day of unpermitted, non-storm water into Permanente Creek/San Francisco Bay) – and public comments to previous Permanente Quarry articles have been removed from the SJ Mercury News Web site. When questioned about the removal, they deemed it a "software glitch."
Max Engels March 30, 2011 at 06:39 PM
zane - please check the Cancer Impact Zone published in 2010 Health Risk Assessment by Lehigh. Overreaction? Is your location within the cancer risk impact?
Frank Geefay March 31, 2011 at 01:01 AM
I’m not trying to downplaying the cement plant for ignoring the law and pushing the limits. But the real problem is that regulatory agencies such as SC County and BAAQMD let them get away with it. Just about every violation sited originated from repeated resident complaints. These regulatory agencies allow Lehigh to violate the rules because most residents are complacent and it is easier to turn a blind eye rather than deal with Lehigh’s violations. These regulatory agencies take the path of least resistance. Lehigh has enormous financial and legal resources to deal with regulatory agencies whereas residents have comparatively few other than repeated complaints. Lehigh has the resources to finance political candidate, organizations, and community causes to gain them favor. A lot of money can buy a lot of loyalty. How can the health and safety possibly compete?
Katheryn September 30, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Tell does this sound familiar, I have provided a link to a story on the Temecula Patch. Please read the story and watch the video in the story. Add this to all your facebook accounts, get the word out. http://temecula.patch.com/articles/citizen-reader-shares-mining-sounds

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