Planning Commission sets special hearing for mine Nov. 10

By Reggie Ellis

Opponents of a mining permit were prepared to continue voicing their opposition to the project's Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) at the Tulare County Planning Commission's Oct. 6 meeting. But when they took the podium they were informed that all comments on the DEIR should have been given at the commission's July 14 meeting.

Del Strange, representative of Valley Citizens for Water, said the commission stated that the public hearing on Kaweah River Rock's DEIR to mine 240 acres between the Kaweah and St. Johns rivers would be continued to the Oct. 6 meeting.

George Finney, Director of Lang Range Planning for the County's Resource Management Agency (RMA), said that public hearings are always ended at the meetings unless "extended by specific action" of the commission. Strange countered by reading the transcript of the meeting's tape recording.

Legal counsel explained that the public hearing on the entire project was still open, but that the public hearing on the DEIR had been closed at the July 14 meeting. However, counsel said that anyone could still submit comments in writing and that they would still be a part of the administrative record which must be considered by planning commissioners before making a decision.

"It was very unclear the way it was handled," Strange said.

The Oct. 6 meeting was also supposed to be the commissioners first look at the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), which must address questions raised by opponents about the DEIR. Patrick Ford, project manager for RMA on the project, said the FEIR has not been completed and recommended setting a special meeting to review the document sometime in November. The special meeting was set for 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors chambers, located at 2800 W. Burrel Ave. in Visalia.

Kaweah River Rock's proposal, known as the Kaweah South Project, is located between the Kaweah and St. Johns rivers, one mile east of the Woodlake Highway and three miles south of Woodlake. The new project is smaller and shallower than the permit to mine 775 acres at a depth of 85 feet denied by the Board of Supervisors in 1999.

Opponents, such as Strange and the Kaweah and St. Johns League, argue that the project will affect water flows and levels to neighboring wells and groundwater. However, the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District -- an agency that protects and recharges groundwater -- has given its seal of approval to the document.

Kaweah River Rock General Manager David Harrald said the construction needs in Tulare County will be between 50-60 million tons of aggregate and without the Kaweah South Project there will only be a supply of 10 million tons permitted.

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