The questions were technical and thoughtful from an audience of nearly 60 concerned residents from surrounding cities at the Lehigh Quarry Public Information Forum in Los Altos Hills Monday night.
Audience members submitted written questions before and during the forum that ranged from what happens if the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant can’t meet new EPA standards for mercury in 2013, to effectiveness of monitoring emissions and discharges, to which way does the wind blow?
“I was pleased with the thoughtfulness of the questions,” said Los Altos Councilman David Casas after the two-hour forum. “ I was happy with the tone and tenor, and the participation of residents from Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.”
Casas, Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard and Los Altos Hills Councilman Gary Waldeck created the public forum as a joint ad hoc committee between the two city councils. The as a response to citizen concerns about possible health effects from the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant and Quarry, located in the foothills just outside of Cupertino.
The forum was held in the Los Altos Hills Council Chambers, although Waldeck was called away on city business elsewhere in the state. Packard chaired the meeting, which included a presentation by Brian Bateman of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).
In addition to residents from the three cities, the room was dotted with Lehigh Southwest Cement officials and elected officials, like Los Altos Hills Mayor Ginger Summit and Mayor Pro Tem Rich Larsen, Cupertino City Councilman Barry Chang and Santa Clara Valley Water District Board Member Brian Schmidt. A member of Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss’ staff was also present.
It was at times a highly technical and information-dense meeting. With no speakers from the floor, it was missing most of the emotions at public hearings over the past several months.
Some of the highlights:
- In answer to a question, Bateman said Lehigh would not be able to operate if it could not consistently meet EPA mercury emission standards after the Sept. 9, 2013, deadline, although Bateman said he thought the company would be able to meet the standards. Lehigh officials they installed equipment that reduces mercury emissions by 90 percent, 2½ years ahead of the deadline.
- Should the EPA relax the mercury standard because of industry challenges, Bateman said the BAAQMD would not force Lehigh to meet the higher standards. Cupertino Councilman Chang said after the meeting the statement was in direct opposition to a statement made by Bateman’s boss, Jack Broadbent, at an earlier public hearing. Chang also said he was disappointed, because he believes just as California has stricter building standards because of earthquakes, the BAAQMD should have stricter air quality requirements for facilities like Lehigh to protect residents.
- Bateman said the new standards for mercury also include stricter requirements on other toxins and particulate matter. He said Lehigh will install a 300-foot single stack in order to better monitor emissions. There used to be two stacks approximately 250-feet high, but they were removed in the early '80s.
- Results from monitoring at Monta Vista Park in Cupertino have shown mercury levels to be comparable to “background levels for a rural area," Bateman said.
- Representatives from the California Regional Water Quality Board dropped out of the forum on advice of counsel, Packard said, because of the with earlier this year. The board ruled Lehigh must pay a $10,000 fine, which the company said publicly it will pay.
- Packard gave a presentation about the meeting he and Waldeck had with water officials in March; he noted that Los Altos and Los Altos residents downstream from Lehigh could have claims against Lehigh for any damages caused by the extra water and silt released by the company into Permanente Creek.
- Which way does the wind blow? Mostly toward Cupertino from the plant, although there are times when wind from the West sends air toward Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, BAAQMD staff said.