By Reggie Ellis
lemon cove – A once controversial mining site is again raising concerns about digging near the aquifer.
What was listed as a “minor modification” turned out to be anything but as nearby residents and planning commissioners both had questions about a proposal to begin mining an additional 20 acres of the Kaweah River Rock Co. mining permit. The modification was presented to the Tulare County Planning Commission at its June 22 meeting.
In his report to the planning commission, project planner Chuck Przybylski wrote that the 20 acres were added to the original mining permit in 2001 for storing processed aggregate materials and rock crusher parts, and for parking heavy equipment. He said the minor modification does not change the overall acreage of the Reclamation Plan, the production levels, materials to be mined, or mining methods. In fact, Przybylski wrote that these modifications are normally handled at the staff level, but a public hearing was scheduled “due to the sensitivity of mining projects within the area, and to provide transparency toward the public.”
An expansion of the original project was approved by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors in 2001. A group of local residents, calling themselves Valley Citizens for Water, sued the mining company and Tulare County in 2005 claiming that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) did not meet California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements for mitigating accumulative air quality impacts and flooding issues.
The Kaweah River Rock mining area is now owned and operated by Sante Fe Aggregates. Doug Reynolds, plant manager for the site, said the 20 acres was needed as a transitional area to give the company more time to develop a secondary mining site. Reynolds said the site would be excavated to 30 feet, which is above the water table as the adjacent 125-acre mining pit did not hit water at a depth of 45 feet.
Karen Callahan, who lives on Lomitas Drive, said she had concerns that the modification went beyond operations for which the area was permitted.
“Changing a parking to a gravel mine can’t be considered minor,” she said.
Many of those speaking against the project were actually citing problems with the nearby Cemex mine as a concern with the Kaweah River Rock mine digging a new pit near the aquifer.
CEMEX’s 127-acre Stillwell Mine settled out of court with four homeowners living near the mine whose wells went dry during their mining excavation in 2014. An independent water consultant Tully and Young found that CEMEX had violated three of the conditions of its permit concerning monthly reporting of groundwater data, maintaining sufficient water in a recharge ditch and failure to take immediate action on the impacts of the mine on nearby well water levels.
Frank Callahan said at 30 feet there may not be water but there is sand and gravel that the water can pass through downgrade of the foothills.
“What will happen to our houses to the north when our wells begin to shutdown?” he asked.
Another Lemon Cove resident, Julie Bigham, said once they filled in the new pit, water would never naturally flow through it again. Bigham asked if they had done any studies on the 20 acres to identify how deep the water is, where the bedrock is or what affect the new area might have on local water wells. She was also worried that this would create another open pit where exposed groundwater would sit and evaporate.
“Turning groundwater into surface water is wrong,” she said.
Bigham suggested extending the public comment period to a later date. After a failed motion to approve as recommended, the Planning Commission approved continuing the public hearing 30 days to the July 27 meeting.