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Lehigh quarry plan OK concerns open-space group


Photo By: COURTESY OF QUARRYNO.COM
Photo Courtesy Of Quarryno.com

Lehigh Southwest Cement’s mining operations are ongoing in the Cupertino foothills south of Los Altos.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors’ June 26 go-ahead for Lehigh Southwest Cement’s plan to expand the limestone quarry did not dissuade environmental groups from voicing concerns about air, water and noise impacts.

Supervisors rejected the groups’ appeals, finding that Lehigh had adequately addressed environmental issues. Quarry plans have raised the ire of several other groups, including the Sierra Club, Quarry No and Bay Area for a Clean Environment. Quarry No, led by Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, and the Sierra Club filed related lawsuits now pending in state and federal courts.

Among those concerned are officials with the Los Altos-based Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), who worry that quarry expansion will hurt the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve located just south of Los Altos.

The approved amendment to the quarry’s 1985 reclamation plan impacts a 1,238.6-acre area, including “extraction areas, processing areas, roads, support features and other facilities,” according to a Lehigh report. The entire quarry comprises 3,500 acres.

One of the contentious matters is ongoing water pollution as a result of selenium. The chemical element is essential for health in trace amounts but can be toxic in excessive concentrations. Detractors claim that selenium pollutes the creek when pooled groundwater from the bottom of the quarry is pumped into the creek.

“We are concerned about the potential impacts on our visitors and our staff who are stationed at Rancho San Antonio,” said Steve Abbors, MROSD general manager. “The district is also concerned about the significant ecological impacts of elevated selenium, including its adverse effect on aquatic organisms and the food chain.”

MROSD also criticized the effect of the dust generated by the quarry and the visual degradation caused by the East Materials Storage Area, which is visible from Rancho San Antonio and the surrounding communities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino and Sunnyvale. The reclamation plan includes dumping waste material excavated from the main quarry pit there. This waste pile has expanded and become more visible over the years and could grow to approximately four times its current size of 1 million cubic yards.

The Lehigh plant produces more than half the cement used in the Bay Area and 70 percent of the cement used in Santa Clara County. The quarry provides aggregate for the cement plant but is not the only source. Together, the quarry and the cement plant employ approximately 100 people.

“We recognize the economic importance of any business in these difficult times, and this is not an attempt to curtail the quarry or its related cement plant operations,” Abbors said. “Lehigh should be held accountable for the effects of its business decisions. … There is still time for Lehigh to decide to do the right thing and clean up the creek, control the dust and stop piling waste rock that increasingly occludes the view of the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains.”

The supervisors’ ruling comes on the heels of a June 25 announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that proposes that Lehigh and other cement plants receive an additional two years to comply with its 2010 air standards, which called for major emission reductions. Cement companies would have until September 2015 to comply.

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