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Residents Tell County Planners No New Quarry

More than 25 speakers weigh in on Lehigh Southwest Cement's proposed 210-acre pit mine at Wednesday's meeting.

"No new quarry." 

That was the general public sentiment Wednesday at a hearing to determine the scope of an environmental impact report (EIR) for Lehigh Southwest Cement’s proposed 210-acre limestone mining pit on its land just outside of Cupertino.

“Please do a good job when you look at the 'no quarry' option,” Cupertino resident Karen Del Compare told Santa Clara County planners. Many of the 27 speakers asked planners to consider the same option. 

The EIR being prepared is for a reclamation plan amendment to a plan approved in 1986 and a conditional use permit for the proposed mine that Lehigh officials are calling the South Quarry. The existing North Quarry has been mined for more than 70 years.

Over the next several months, the proposed mine will have on the foothills, including impacts to air, water, vegetation, wildlife and soils. They will also study the visual impacts the mine will have; according to planners, much of the new mine will be visible from the valley floor.

Every EIR also includes a study of alternatives to the project, including a “Reduced Scale Alternative” and a “No Project Alternative.” The latter was popular among speakers, who told planners they worry the quarry’s operations is harming the local environment and population.

Of particular concern expressed was how much mercury is being emitted by the cement kiln and what cumulative effect it might have on Santa Clara County’s more than 1.7 million residents. The kiln is considered a separate project and is not included in the current EIR, but it was still a major topic at the meeting.

David Cook of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society likened local residents to canaries in the mine—a practice used in the past to determine miners’ safety in underground mines.

“Of course, this is an open quarry so we don’t have such a thing, but I think our neighbors feel they’re the bird in the cage,” he said to some applause from the audience of approximately 65 at the Quinlan Center in Cupertino.

Lehigh officials who spoke pointed to efforts they are making to be environmentally responsible, including installing equipment to reduce mercury emissions from the cement kiln ahead of an EPA mandate that goes into effect in September 2013. Plant manager Henrik Wesseling said equipment is arriving at the end of this week, and installation will begin immediately.

Tim Matz, Lehigh’s corporate director of environmental affairs, said the company’s owner, Heidelberg Cement, is a founding member of the Cement Sustainability Initiative, “a voluntary effort to protect the environment and be as good a neighbor as we can be.”

Quarry neighbors from Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Cupertino and Saratoga who spoke Wednesday remained skeptical, however.

Some complained the company has outstanding from regulatory agencies over various air, water and land issues. There were also complaints that agencies such as the county have not been stringent enough in making sure Lehigh is compliant with its approved plans, or with environmental regulations.

While some speakers did refer to the current mine as a “scar” on the local foothills, no one offered specific suggestions for planners on where to take photos from the valley floor for the EIR. Planners asked the audience for suggestions to aid them in gauging the proposed mine’s future visual impact.

Planners said there is still time to provide suggestions and other written comments through April 10. Comments can be mailed to County of Santa Clara Planning Office, Attn. Marina Rush, 70 W. Hedding St., 7th Floor, San Jose, 95110, or emailed to marina.rush@pln.sccgov.org.

Once a draft EIR is completed, another public hearing will take place sometime this fall, planners said.

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