Lehigh Reclamation Plan

Lehigh Reclamation Plan Amendment

Background:

In 2006 Hanson Permanente Cement (former owner) was issues a Notice of Violation (“NOV”) by the County of Santa Clara – Department of Planning and Development (“County”) for using the East Material Storage Area (“EMSA”) for stockpiling mining waste (overburden) after repeated complaints by residents (see actual Notice of Violation from Santa Clara County 10/10/2006).  Mining activities in any area, such as dumping mining waste, requires a Reclamation Plan for the dumping area according to State SMARA law as well as a County Conditional Use Permit.  Neither existed for the EMSA.  Then Hanson Cement submitted a amendment to the Reclamation Plan in January 2007 to address the 2006 NOV but continued to dump illegally in the EMSA even after the 2nd NOV was issued in 2008.

There is evidence from aerial photographs that dumping of overburden in the EMSA started sometime prior to 2002.  It likely started some time after 1995 when it was reacquired by the cement plant from Kaiser Aluminum.  It probably started around 2000.  Thus this illegal dumping activity has been ongoing for over 10 years.

In 2008 residents again repeatedly complained about continued dumping by Lehigh Cement in the EMSA.  The County issued a 2nd NOV to Lehigh telling them to:

  1. cease depositing the material in the location described above (EMSA) and

  2. submit a proposal for either

    1. Removing the material or

    2. Provide for interim erosion control and re-vegetation of the stockpile to order to retain the material while the reclamation plan amendment continues to be processes.

In 2009-2010 Lehigh submitted another amending to the existing 1985 Reclamation Plan to incorporate not only the EMSA and some disturbed landslide area around the perimeter of the existing mine but also a new 200 acre open pit mine (see New 200 Acre Open Pit Mine Quarry).  The County permitted Lehigh to continue dumping material in this area until the revised reclamation plan could be implemented, a reversal of the NOV order which stated that they must “1. cease depositing the material in the location…”.


Photo From Office of Mine Reclamation presentation “Permanente Quarry CA Mine
ID 91-43-0004” dated 02/10/201 by Kevin Doherty, PG –OMR, Compliance Section

What is a Reclamation Plan?

In 1975 the State extablished the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) which required mining operators to have a Reclamation Plan which defines where mining activities (including stockpiling) of mining overburden can occur and  how to reclaim or return a mined out area to a natural state when mining ceases.  The angle of slope of the land and a list of plants to be used to re-vegetate a reclaimed slope is defined with proper drainage and erosion control.  The State has designated SC County as the lead agency for establishing a Reclamation Plan for Lehigh Quarry.

The first Reclamation Plan approved for Lehigh (at that time Hanson Cement) was in 1985 to be renewed every 25 years or earlier if there are any changes to where mining activities occurs.  Thus a renewal of the plan was due in 2010.

What is an Amendment to the Reclamation Plan?

If the mining operator wants to make changes to how the reclamation will be done or changes to an existing mine operation or extension of mining activities beyond their current Reclamation Plan boundaries then an amendment to the Reclamation Plan must be submitted by by the operator and approved by the County.  The amended Reclamation Plan must be approved and finalized prior to to the start of any mining operation changes in accordance to SMARA.  A Reclamation plan amendments can range from a modification of the list of plants to be used to re-vegetate a reclaimed slope, to a redesign of slope angles, to an expansion of the land subject to excavation and reclamation. An amendment can take the form of a change in the mine footprint, a change in the composition of plant materials to be used during reclamation for re-vegetation purposes, or other physical changes to the final configuration of the land from the previously approved design.

Lehigh’s Amendment to the Reclamation Plan

The two NOVs issued by the County in 2006 and again in 2008 clearly state that Lehigh was was in violation of SMARA which required an approved Reclamation Plan for the EMSA.  They have probably been in continuous violation since around 2000.  In April 2009 Lehigh finally submitted Reclamation Plan amendment as a result of these NOVs and the County County has allowed limited use of the EMSA while this amendment is in process.  As part of this amendment they were required to submit an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) by the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) which they omitted to submit with their plan.  This resulted in further delays while the EIR was being prepared.

Boundary of original 1985 Reclamation Plan and Current areas outside
the Reclamation Plan including the East Material Storage Area

Photo From Office of Mine Reclamation presentation “Permanente Quarry CA Mine
ID 91-43-0004” dated 02/10/201 by Kevin Doherty, PG –OMR, Compliance Section

This amendment would reconfigure the mining and materials storage areas through grading activities that would include cutting benches in the bedrock, backfilling excavations with mining overburden material, and re-vegetation of the final slopes created by this process. An area on the west side of the pit from which minerals are extracted is a stockpile area that receives overburden from the pit. This stockpile is required under the existing reclamation plan to be re-vegetated and to provide for proper drainage and erosion control. The proposed amendment would include disturbed areas that are currently outside the reclamation plan boundary, but which are used regularly as part of mining activities. The EMSA would be designed by the proposed amendment to receive overburden materials as well. The resulting slopes would be re-vegetated and engineered to provide for proper drainage and erosion control.

 

Lehigh Quarry & Current Open Pit Mine

[New boundaries defined by the revised Reclamation Plan]

On May 28, 2010 Lehigh submitted another amendment to the Reclamation Plan to also include a new 200 acre second open pit mine South of the current quarry and in a distinctly different undisturbed area.  This is viewed as a distinctly new mine, not an expansion of the existing one to the North.

About Amendments to Reclamation Plans – An Amendment is a modification of an existing document.  It does not account for any changes in the law since it original inception.  Thus the Amendments grandfather in the the laws as of 1985.  I new Reclamation Plan would have incorporated any new laws.  A New Reclamation Plan should have been submitted, NOT an Amendment to an exiting one, especially since a new 200 acre open pit mine that is totally outside of the area covered by the original Reclamation Plan has been added.

Mine Reclamation – AB 3098 List: The Office of Mine Reclamation periodically publishes a list of mines regulated under SMARA that meet provisions set forth under California’s Public Resources Code, Section 2717(b). This list is generally referred to as the AB 3098 List, in reference to the 1992 legislation, that established it. Sections 10295.5 and 20676 of the Public Contract Code preclude mining operations that are not on the AB 3098 List from selling sand, gravel, aggregates or other mined materials to state or local agencies. For the Office of Mine Reclamation to place a mining operation on the AB 3098 List, the operation must meet all of the following conditions:

  1. The operation has an approved reclamation plan;

  2. The operation has an approved financial assurance;

  3. The operation has filed its annual report;

  4. The operation has paid its reporting fee;

  5. The operation has had its annual inspection by the lead agency which reflects the operation is in full compliance with the law.

Lehigh has been in continuous violation of the 1985 Reclamation Plan almost as soon as it was enacted (see landslide photo above).  Yet Lehigh has been on the AB 3098 List since its inception in 1992 in spite of the fact that it has not had “an approved reclamation plan” for over 25 years (see presentation by State Office of Mine Reclamation on February 10, 2011).

In the mean time Lehigh requested and the County granted Vested Rights (see Santa Clara County Grants Vested Rights to Lehigh Cement on February 8, 2011 and Vested Rights) for Lehigh to use the EMSA without the need to apply for a conditional Use Permit.  A Reclamation Plan is still required.

A good source of information about the Reclamation Plan process can be found on the Santa Clara County web site: Lehigh Permanente Quarry and Cement Plant Frequently Asked Questions.  Some of the information on this web page came from this document.

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