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Lehigh Touts EIR; Residents Remain Unconvinced

Company and residents remain opponents as County Planning Commission considers draft EIR and reclamation plan amendment.

Lehigh Southwest Cement officials proudly touted the draft environmental impact report for the Lehigh Permanente Quarry Reclamation Plan Amendment at a county planning commission meeting on Thursday, but residents remained adamant in maintaining it's flawed.

The public hearing was another step toward an expected approval of the EIR and the reclamation plan amendment, possibly as early as the March 22 Santa Clara County Planning Commission meeting.

just one week before, Lehigh officials were in attendance, but did not speak. On Feb. 2 representatives stepped up to the microphone, saying they were proud of the EIR, and pointing out future benefits to the environment.

"We’ve gone to great lengths to make this reclamation plan the model of our company’s commitment to environmental stewardship," said Plant Manager Henrik Wesseling. He told commissioners that the plan will add 1,700 oak trees, 8,600 pine trees, and reclaim 637 acres of shrubs and grasses.

Marvin Howell, Lehigh's director of land use planning and permitting, said the plan sets aside 600 acres as a permanent buffer, and that plans to backfill the existing mine will restore the view of ridge of the quarry that faces Los Altos Hills to similar elevations before mining began in the late 1800s.

He also said the reclamation work will restore stormwater drainage into Permanente Creek back to what it was naturally.

The creek is a key issue, since quarry activities are discharging high levels of selenium into the creek, which flows to San Francisco Bay. against Lehigh under the Clean Water Act. With the passage of the reclamation plan, the company will have to take immediate measures to reduce selenium.

Several residents, along with Cupertino City Councilmember Barry Chang, speaking as a representative of Bay Area Clean Environment and not as an elected official, raised water quality as an issue that requires further study and regulation.

One Los Altos resident, Libby Lucas, expressed concern that there was no consideration in the EIR of a

Residents from Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills told commissioners there were other problems with the EIR.

"The EIR, we believe, is flawed," said Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, founder of the group Quarry No.

Almon said that under the California Environmental Quality Act both direct and indirect impacts to the environment should be measured, but the EIR leaves out an estimated 100,000 diesel truck trips to and from the plant each year.

He also said that any impact that can be "reasonably expected" should be considered, and a new pit, , is a reasonable expection and should be included.

The company dropped plans for a new quarry south of Permanente Creek last year. Howell, who spoke after Almon, said, "I want to make it clear we own 3,500 acres of land at this site. This reclamation plan will not provide for new mining in our ownership."

Almon also criticized the health risk assessment used for the report, calling it old data, as well as the model used to measure air emissions, saying the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) had plans to replace the model in the future.

Santa Clara County planners are accepting public comments on the draft EIR through Feb. 21. They can be mailed to the County of Santa Clara Planning Office, 70 W. Hedding St., East Wing, 7th Floor, San Jose, CA., 95110, Attention Rob Eastwood. They can also be emailed to rob.eastwood@pln.sccgov.org.

The entire EIR, as well as the reclamation plan amendment, are available on the county's website for public review.

This week there are two chances for the public to learn more or voice concerns. at 6 p.m. in the Los Altos Hills Town Hall, 26379 Fremont Rd. On Tuesday there's a Lehigh-related agenda item concerning air quality on the Cupertino City Council agenda. The council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Cupertino Community Hall, 10350 Torre Ave.

Crystal Tai February 07, 2012 at 01:14 AM
It's great that Patch keeps Cupertino residents informed about everything going on with Lehigh. This is something may Cupertino residents care deeply about, and Patch is doing what it's supposed to do about it.
Pam Marino February 07, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Regular Council business starts at 6:45 p.m., and the Lehigh issue is at the end of the agenda. At 5:30 p.m. the Council is interviewing library commission candidates.
Neighbor NextDoor February 09, 2012 at 10:20 AM
It is simply amazing that BAAQMD and Lehigh officials (and the "consultants hired by the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills city councils) purposely neglect to mention or recognize the fact that the cement plant and quarry release more than one thousand pounds of deadly mercury into the air and water year in and year out. A-half of an ounce of mercury can kill a lake full of fishes and other lives. That is a fact. Who do they try to fool here? In addition, Lehigh also releases a huge amount of many other chemicals, such as NOX, Dioxin, Benzene and so on. Would those Lehigh officials who live far away in Texas and Germany move into our neighborhood to breath the polluted air and consume the tamed water or they would tolerate similar pollution in their home fronts?
Frank Geefay February 11, 2012 at 08:59 PM
The EIR and Reclamation Plan presented to the public sound almost good on paper with some major exceptions expressed by BACE member Barry Chang and QuarryNo advocate Bill Almond. The bigger question is will there be enough money available at the time Lehigh decides to abandon the mine to pay for the entire reclamation plan. Or will the huge scar on the foothills of Cupertino remain forever. Will we the citizens have to pick up the tab for fixing this mess left by Lehigh. To Lehigh this is a business operation where spending on non-related business expenses goes contrary to their corporate bottom line of making a profit. However this huge 3 mile long scar in our landscape will affect the future aesthetics of our region and create environmental and water contamination issues if left improperly or inadequately reclaimed back to its natural state. History is filled with examples where companies have abandoned sites with huge contamination and reclamation issues and inadequate funds to fix it leaving it up to the taxpayers to ultimately fix the mess they leave behind.
Susan February 11, 2012 at 09:25 PM
"Posting finanacial assurances" is the second part of the Reclamation Plan requirement, with the plan itself being the first requirement. I'm not really sure, but maybe it's like when a criminal posts a BadBoy bail bond to get out of jail? I hope it means they can't just make tree planting promises to the State, then walk out on their responsibility.
Frank Geefay February 11, 2012 at 10:47 PM
The Financial Assurance currently put aside by Lehigh is $11,439,992 in terms of bonds purchased for this purpose and updated last year. There are houses in the Cupertino foothills worth that amount of money. This amount may be slightly adjusted by the revised Reclamation Plan but not by much. To bring more than 700 acres of strip mined area 3 miles in length (equivalent to the distance from Foothill Expwy to Laurence Expwy) back to its natural state 10-20 years from now will easily take more than 100-500 times that amount unless all they really intend to do is put a 6 inch thick layer of topsoil over there terraced landscape, landslide areas, and artificial lakes and simply plant seeds. Is the cement plant facility itself covered by the Reclamation Plan or do we pick up the tab for that as well? Who is being fooled here? We are of course.
Frank Geefay February 17, 2012 at 01:10 AM
I stand corrected to the Financial Assurance stated above. I just contacted the County and they said that the Financial Assurance put aside by Lehigh is $47,727,786.
Susan February 17, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Frank, I don't think you were wrong. The 47 mil is for the new plan, right? It would seem premature for Lehigh to put any money aside before the plan is approved. The public comment phase doesn't close until Feb. 21, so if you have questions, now is the time to put them in writing. The County is required to answer every CEQA related question. It's far to ask how secure these funds are. In other words, will they truly be available, or is there yet another disappointing loophole waiting for Lehigh to slide through?
Frank Geefay February 17, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Here are the answers Gary Rudholm, Senior Planner, gave to some of my questions (shorten answers to keep char. count within Patch limits): Q: How much money has Lehigh set aside in terms of Financial Assurance for the Reclamation Plan fund? Lehigh has posted five performance bonds that collectively total $47,727,786.00. Q: How have they set it aside e.g. given it to the County, placed it in investments, trusts, etc.? The money is in the form of performance bonds posted by surety companies. ... the County ...and the State ...as beneficiaries. Q: Does this fund get added to every year to make up for inflation 10-20 years from now when the dollar will be worth far less? The operators ...are required to submit financial assurance cost estimates (FACE) every year to the ...Santa Clara County... for review and approval. ...OMR ...also reviews the calculations in the FACE. If the FACE demonstrates the estimated cost for reclamation of a surface mine has changed, the lead agency may require an adjustment to the amount of Financial Assurance... An adjustment to the amount of Financial Assurance may be necessary for a variety of reasons... The pertinent variables must be identified and taken into consideration each year when the operator prepares its FACE. By reviewing the FACE each year the lead agency ensures the amount of money provided by the Financial Assurance is in current dollars.
Frank Geefay February 17, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Susan, you and I are both right. $11,439,992 was the Financial Assurance amount in 2010. It got revised up to $13,438,624 in April 2011, and recently dramatically increased to $47,727,786. This means the newest revised Reclamation Plan is about 4 times greater than in 2010. Does that make sense or did they low-ball it in 2010? I don't think the reclamation area has increased by 4 times or inflation increased that much in this bad economy since 2010. Interesting.
Susan February 17, 2012 at 03:24 AM
My guess is the increase was caused by both their illegal expansion into the old Permanente Metals property ("EMSA"), and the damage they've done to Permanente creek (classified as "impaired" by the EPA). Both weren't even mentioned in the original RPA, but public pressure forced OMR and the County to hold them accountable. It's important to remember reclamation begins after they are done mining -- and I'll believe that only when I see it. Exactly twenty years ago this month, "Kaiser officials estimate that the quarry has about 20 more years of material." Fool me once, shame on you, twice, it's on me.
Frank Geefay February 17, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Take a look at the last page of the previous Reclamation Plan Amendment 12/7/2011: http://www.sccgov.org/SCC/docs/Planning,%20Office%20of%20%28DEP%29/attachments/Environmental%20Documents/2250%20Hanson%20Quarry%20Attachment%20docs%20and%20images/RPA%20documents/RPA%20Dec%202011/Amended%20Reclamation%20Plan.pdf The 2010 Financial Assurance includes EMSA as well as other disturbed areas. So why is the latest FA 4 time more than in 2010? It doesn't make sense. Even if they were in error the 2011 FA of $13,438,624 should include EMSA.
Frank Geefay February 17, 2012 at 03:40 AM
My concern is that if there is not enough money in the Financial Assurance to cover 100% of the reclamation costs then it doesn't matter how air tight we make the Reclamation Plan, we tax payers will end up footing the balance of the reclamation costs. More community oversight needs to be placed upon the accuracy of the Financial Assurance.

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