County and Open Space District Seek to Protect Ridge from Mining | News

Santa Clara County and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District on Thursday offered to join forces to protect part of the Santa Cruz Mountains ridge from mining.

Known as Permanente Ridge, the top of the mountain is a buffer for the operations of the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company. Lehigh wants to modify its 2012 reclamation plan for the Lehigh Permanente quarry to increase mining. As part of the amendment, the proposal calls for disturbing an area of ​​the ridge approximately 100 feet in vertical height – about as high as a 10-story building – and 4,000 feet in diameter. That’s the equivalent of an area containing 15 million cubic meters of dirt that, scaled, would fill about 1.8 million full-size cement trucks if removed, the county supervisor said, Joe Simitian.

The proposal would have the effect of “cutting off the top” of the roughly 20-acre easement, which is protected by a nearly 50-year-old agreement.

“This easement is a matter of law. It’s a protection for this hill,” Simitian said.

To help bolster their opposition, county supervisors will vote this Tuesday, June 22, on whether to put in place an agreement that would grant Midpen enforcement powers over the 20-acre Ridgeline conservation easement. The Midpen board will also address the alliance discussion with the county at their meeting on Wednesday June 23.

The 1972 Ridgeline Easement was entered into between Lehigh’s predecessor, Kaiser Cement and Gypsum Corporation, and the county. It prohibits quarrying and mining in the easement area, a section approximately 3,000 feet long, and requires Kaiser and his successors to maintain portions of the ridge line at specific elevations. It also allows the county to enter the property for “from time to time” inspections regarding the preservation of the ridgeline easement.

Granting enforcement rights to Midpen would give the county more “eyes on the site and boots on the field,” Simitian said. It would add a second line of defense in the effort to get Lehigh to honor its commitment to the grant deed, he added.

Midpen has legal expertise related to land rights and management and owns a property adjacent to the easement: the district’s Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve in Cupertino, which sees more than 800,000 visitors a year, Yoriko Kishimoto said. , a member of the Board of Directors of Midpen. Permanente Ridge provides a natural screen from the quarry, helps keep dust from mining operations from spreading into the open space, and provides habitat for wildlife, she said.

In its May 2019 proposal to amend its 2012 reclamation plan for the Lehigh Permanente quarry, Lehigh said it wanted to extract additional limestone from the area and reduce the grade for stabilization along its northern section. from the upper wall of the quarry. He also sought to modify the easement agreement to achieve his goals.

The company wishes to extend the excavation of the north wall of the North Quarry pit; expand surface mining in the new 30-acre rock plant reserve area south of the North Quarry pit; reactivate the use of the quarry’s existing rock crusher; and hauling unprocessed aggregate to the adjacent Stevens Creek quarry via an internal haul road. Expanding surface mining operations would increase its total production by about 600,000 tons, according to a December 2020 memo from the county’s Planning and Development Department.

The county sent Lehigh a ‘completion’ letter in August 2019 saying the 2012 remediation plan amendment application could go through an environmental review, but that process has stalled, with both parties blaming each other. each other.

In 2011, the county determined “grandfathering” of land in Lehigh that could be mined. Lehigh wants to expand its surface mining operations to include unprocessed greenstone aggregate, a point of contention between the company and the county. The county argues that Lehigh needs a grandfathering consistency hearing to determine whether the proposed offsite sale of unprocessed aggregate and production intensification is consistent with the company’s grandfathering rights to operate. open pit mining as part of the 2012 reclamation plan.

Lehigh said the 2011 determination is adequate. The county, however, said the determination focused on the “geographic extent” of Lehigh’s vested right, but did not delineate the “substantial scope” of that right, meaning which surface mining activities and related activities are compatible with the acquired right, according to the note of December 2020.

Lehigh claims the county is violating provisions of California’s Environmental Quality Act by unilaterally altering a private project. The company filed a lawsuit against the county in Santa Clara County Superior Court last February.

The county says Lehigh is dragging its feet to move the environmental impact report (EIR) process forward. According to the county, on October 28 and November 13, 2020, Lehigh submitted letters to the Department of Planning and Development declining to provide comment on the “scope of work” of the EIR or funds to initiate preparation of the report. Lehigh claimed that the scope of work did not reflect the project it had submitted because the EIR proposed to assess the environmental impacts of mining activities which would be considered by the oversight board during the consistency hearing. acquired rights.

Lehigh wanted the planning department to limit the scope of the EIR to only the proposed 2019 reclamation plan amendment request, not for the EIR to evaluate the results of the county’s grandfather consistency determination. , according to the December 2020 county memo.

Erika Guerra, director of land and environmental resource management for parent company Lehigh Hanson’s West Region, disputed the county’s claims in a June 18 written statement.

“While Lehigh has not had the opportunity to review the details of the county’s proposal to involve the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, we appreciate the expertise that MOSD (sic) can provide to the technical review of our request for a reclamation plan and hope that the process can begin in earnest.”

Despite the county’s statements to the contrary, Guerra said the company offered solutions to the Ridgeline through its current app.

“The county is blocking the application by attempting to challenge its own final decision on our long-established grandfather rights, which have also been upheld by the courts. The county must stop delaying the robust environmental review and community outreach process that we kicked off and move forward on our request, she said.

“Lehigh agrees with the importance of protecting our precious natural resources, including our quarry crest line. We have demonstrated this commitment by submitting an amendment that will preserve the easement,” she said.

“To be clear, the bondage will remain,” she added.

But the top of the ridge would not be left untouched. Lehigh “offered solutions (which) were developed by geotechnical experts to preserve it for the long term and include improved revegetation and stability,” she said.

Eddie Venancio, Teamsters Local 853 business representative, and Jim Riley, District Representative for Operations Engineers Local 3, said at Thursday’s press conference that Lehigh had reduced operations and required less of labor, which adds more questions as to why the company now wants to expand mining to the quarry.

Parent company Lehigh Hanson, part of the global Heidelberg Cement Group, sold all of its western states operations to Martin Marietta Materials Inc. in late May for $2.3 billion in cash, except of the Permanente site, the union leaders noted. The company has confirmed that the Cupertino quarry operations are excluded from the sale.

On Tuesday, June 22, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to direct the County Council to enter into discussions with Midpen for the granting of enforcement rights associated with the Ridgeline Easement and to report back to the Board. on August 17 with an agreement. . Supervisors Simitian and Lee’s motion also asks staff to clarify the application and obligations and provide specific calculations regarding the amount of peak that would be disrupted.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story attributed the “boots on the pitch” quote to Yoriko Kishimoto instead of Joe Simitian. Palo Alto Online regrets the error.

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