Two unrelated lawsuits involving government agencies have been filed with Lehigh Southwest Cement plant at the center of each.
Patch will continue to report on Lehigh and the lawsuits so please check back.
Lehigh, the cement plant once known as Permanente Cement, announced on Monday it filed suit against Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and Bay District Board over stricter air quality requirements for its cement plant that were passed in September.
And on Thursday the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, the agency that runs Rancho San Antonio Park near Lehigh, filed suit against Santa Clara County and the county Board of Supervisors over a June decision to approve an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Lehigh’s reclamation plan amendment.
Both suits will be watched closely by environmental groups that have been calling on Lehigh to improve its mining and cement plant operations, which the groups charge are not in compliance with regulations.
MROSD’s Lawsuit Against the County
A June 26 Santa Clara County decision approved Lehigh’s amended reclamation plan that was opposed by individuals and multiple groups including MROSD. The agency, which oversees Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve spoke out at public input meetings, filed written comments on the subject and expressed great disappointment following the decision.
But the agency also approached Lehigh directly to try to come to terms that both parties could live with, according to Steve Abbors, MROSD general manager.
“I always figure if you have a neighbor and a problem and you can work out a solution you have a long-term partner,” Abbors said.
After meetings with Kari Saragusa, Western Regional President of Lehigh Hanson, Abbors said they came to a standstill.
“We got to the point in our discussion where we really couldn’t reach an agreement that would work for the both of us.”
The lawsuit was a last resort, he said.
Abbors said concern for the health of MROSD employees who work and live on Rancho San Antonio—which abuts Lehigh property—and the 500,000 annual park visitors were driving factors for not backing down.
MROSD’s property includes the City of Mountain View’s Deer Hollow Farm that houses an educational center for children and where day camps are held in summer.
Talks between Abbors and Saragusa were cordial, according to Abbors, and he says he knows the lawsuit will put a strain on the partnership, but believes it won't limit the working relationship.
“When this is all over with we will have people to talk with (at Lehigh.) Mr. Saragusa is someone I can talk to; he’s a very reasonable individual. When you have a business and a community grow up around it, without proper mitigation the two are naturally at odds.”
Lehigh’s Lawsuit Against BAAQMD
Lehigh charges the air district with imposing standards the company says it cannot reach by the district’s September 2013 deadline and that the deadline is two years ahead of one set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The company said in a statement that the air district's regulations would cause the cement plant to be the only cement plant in the nation to be required to meet such standards.
The local agency, BAAQMD, which oversees the district in which Lehigh is located is sticking with the 2013 deadline. Several local organizations and the cities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Cupertino had urged the air quality board to adopt the strictest regulations it could.
Lehigh did not return a call for comment at the time of publishing this article.