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Despite Objections, Lehigh Plan Amendment Moving Quickly

Selenium pollution, air pollution and dust were concerns raised by the public at a Santa Clara County Planning Department workshop that served as a warm-up to a public hearing on a draft EIR on Feb. 2.

A Lehigh Southwest Cement reclamation plan amendment is proceeding at a fast clip, but that’s not slowing down quarry neighbors and activist groups that are continuing to question the environmental impacts of the cement plant and quarry, as was evident at a public workshop Thursday night.

Currently on the table is a . The Santa Clara County Planning Department held the workshop to educate residents on how to use the nearly 600-page report and make comments.

The workshop came just one week before the county Planning Commission conducts a public hearing, at 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2, at the county headquarters, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose. Planners encouraged residents to attend the meeting to voice oral comments, or submit written comments by Feb. 21.

County planners told the crowd of about 35 people in the Quinlan Community Center in Cupertino that they expect the EIR to be certified and the reclamation plan to be voted on by the Planning Commission as early as March 22.

The three-phase amendment to a reclamation plan approved by the county in 1985 details how the mining and cement company will reclaim 1,238 acres of land used for mining since the early 1930s over the next 20 years. The EIR details the environmental consequences resulting from reclamation activities.

Despite not being a meeting to capture official complaints and questions about the draft EIR, residents voiced complaints on Thursday that ranged from selenium pollution of Permanente Creek, to air pollution and dust from the quarry, cement kiln, and thousands of trucks that come and go annually.

Selenium Concerns

Selenium pollution was a major topic at the workshop, and in fact, planners said the county put into the draft EIR that the impact of selenium, as well as other negative impacts on the creek, must be addressed immediately upon the plan’s approval. 

Specifically, the report calls for removal of large limestone boulders from Permanente Creek on Lehigh property above  because they could be adding to the discharge of selenium into the creek. In elevated levels selenium can harm fish, birds and other wildlife, and in high levels it can pose a risk to human life.

In December under the Clean Water Act for elevated levels of selenium and other toxins flowing in Permanente Creek from the quarry to San Francisco Bay.

In Phase III of the reclamation process, possibly between the years 2026 to 2030, planners said the company would have to completely entomb the current 265-acre pit to prevent further selenium runoff. The reclamation plan calls for backfilling the pit using overburdened material from the West Materials Storage Area, which faces Los Altos Hills.

Future Quarry Pit Exploration

Plans for a , however, are not in this reclamation plan. However, county planners said Thursday that exploration and testing of the land on the southern side of Permanente Creek for a new pit was expected to exceed reclamation plan standards. That discovery led to a recommendation that exploration activities be included in the plan.

Expedited Process

While the wheels of bureaucracy in most cases appear to turn slowly, this time the process is moving faster, Principal Planner Rob Eastwood confirmed Thursday night. He told Patch that Lehigh agreed with the state Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR) to expedite the reclamation plan process.

In 2011 the OMR contended that both Lehigh and the county were taking too long to approve a reclamation plan amendment, . , which includes the OMR, claiming the decision was unfair. The case is pending, according to Santa Clara County Court records.

Eastwood added that previous work done by the county when Lehigh officials sought an earlier reclamation plan last year was collapsed into the current plan, simplifying the process.

Denise East January 28, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Cupertino needs to develop local storm water discharge regulations more stringent than Federal and State regulations to restore Permanente Creek for the well-being of people, plants, and wildlife. The U.S. Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for industrial activities requires a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan that is in compliance with state and local requirements.
Frank Geefay January 28, 2012 at 06:03 PM
It appears that Lehigh is beating the system again. The State Office of Mining and Reclamation (OMR) threatened to take Lehigh off the AB3098, the selected government vendors list, so Lehigh sued OMR saying that they were unfair despite the fact that Lehigh was without a valid Reclamation Plan for a decade due to stockpiling at the EMSA. This is a legal ploy by Lehigh to slow down OMR’s actions. In the meantime they have given Santa Clara County money to hire resources to expedite a long overdue Reclamation Plan and have dropped the new open pit mine from the earlier Reclamation Plan to speed up approval before the court can rule on OMR's effort to remove them from AB3098. This is a clear example of how big business with big money can continue to flaunt the law and beat the system. We let them do it because of our apathy. Only a handful of residents are fighting to make big business accountable to the law, David and Goliath, but in this case Goliath seems to be winning. Only about 35 people showed up at last Thursday’s meeting. Had citizens cared the room would have been full to overflowing. Lehigh seems to have managed to beat an apathetic community again. Then there are presidential candidates who want to do away with regulatory agencies altogether. What is happening to this country?
Gary E. Jones January 29, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Does Lehigh comply on the clean air days: The same as individuals? http://www.sparetheair.org/Get-Involved/Your-Community/Resource-Teams/San-Jose.aspx
Frank Geefay January 30, 2012 at 12:48 AM
COMPLIANCE does not appear to be part of Lehigh's actionable vocabulary. They appear to be more about pushing beyond legal limits because it is something they can get away with.
Frank Geefay January 30, 2012 at 10:51 PM
We blame companies like Lehigh for breaking laws, but it is within their nature to focus upon profits at the expense of laws and health and safety issues. They will always try to get away with as much as they can. We blame the regulatory agencies for allowing companies like Lehigh to continually violate laws, but it is within the nature of regulatory agencies to take the path of least resistance and negotiate compromises to resolve violations with as little expense and resources as possible. They simple do not have the funds or resources to fight expensive legal battles with industry. However we fail to blame ourselves for being complacent and apathetic and not putting up more resistance with our regulators so that they are not so easily swayed by corporate lawyers. We must give regulators pressure to pursue stricter enforcement if we desire results. We cannot depend upon them alone to protect us. They simply do not have the resources to effectively enforce. They are on the low end of the government funding hierarchy because we ask government to spend elsewhere. Without an involved citizenry, industry and corporate interests will continue to result in abuses of good laws because they can easily get away with it.

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