On Wednesday, December 10, the Tulare County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing concerning CEMEX’ conditional use permit at Stillwell mine in Lemon Cove. CEMEX is a Mexican-owned gravel mining company that has been accused of violating its permits since taking over RMC Pacific Materials in the early 2000s. Everyone concerned with the future of Tulare County is encouraged to attend.
At stake is not just CEMEX’ mining permit at Stillwell, but any future mining permit the multi-national might seek. At this time, the Tulare County Planning Commission will only be making a decision concerning the Stillwell mine. But how CEMEX comports itself in view of the violations of their conditional use permit, and how willing the company is to fairly compensate the four residents for their property’s loss in value, will determine if Tulare County residents will ever allow CEMEX to operate in this county again.
According to the Resource Management Agency (RMA), the following actions may be taken by the Tulare County Planning Commission at the conclusion of the hearing: the planning commission might revoke or modify CEMEX’ permit # 98-003 for possible violations of the permit conditions; the commission may also recommend litigation against CEMEX, or impose fines and penalties in relation to the damage done to the Stillwell mine’s neighbors; or the planning commission may find that CEMEX is not in violation of its permit and recommend that no action be taken.
Because of the serious nature of the violations, the public hearing might be continued for an additional day to discuss issues that may come up in the first hearing and to guarantee that everyone has their say. After the possible second meeting, the Planning Commission will make a decision and present it to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The board of supervisors will then vote on the commission’s recommendation. If the effected parties do not agree with the final decision they can make an appeal.
Not yet on the table are CEMEX’ violations of its conditional use permit at the Lemon Cove facility. Several residents’ wells next to the Lemon Cove facility have dropped in elevation by half, and the neighboring farmers have not been able to irrigate their citrus groves. A separate public hearing will be proposed to negotiate compensation for these Tulare County residents.
A week before the public hearing was formally announced, a representative from CEMEX called Rob Morton, one of the neighbors of the Stillwell mine whose well went dry. The CEMEX representative said that he had arranged a conference room in Three Rivers and wanted to present either a proposal or legal document to the residents. The representative told Morton he had two days to organize the four affected residents for the meeting. Morton politely declined.
Earlier in the year, the four homeowners living next to Stillwell mine did meet with a CEMEX lawyer in the chambers of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The lawyer had a contract ready to go and encouraged the residents to sign on the dotted line. The legally binding agreement would have waived the residents’ right to sue CEMEX in exchange for $20,000 to go for a new community well. Seeing as a community well would have cost around $120,000, and would have been an organizational nightmare, the residents politely declined CEMEX’ generous offer.
Sometime in 2015, CEMEX will be coming before the Tulare County Board of Supervisors to request another mining permit at McKay Point. Tulare Irrigation District (TID) took three years to hammer out a contract with the multinational to mine the gravel and help finance the building of a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir at McKay Point. If CEMEX balks at fully compensating the Stillwell mine neighbors for expenses and lost value to their properties, and ignores the needs of the farmers living next to the Lemon Cove facility, then TID might be forced to find a new partner. According one local, “TID is going to have to look for someone else to dig up their gravel because it’s not going to be CEMEX.”
The public hearing will be taking place in the chambers of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, Administration Building, County Civic Center, 2800 W. Burrel, Visalia. For further information regarding the hearing, call Chuck Przybylski, planner III, at 624-7000.
CEMEX Withdraws Faulty Interim Management Plan
Transparency has not been CEMEX’ modus operandi, and will be a major stumbling block for the multi-national when it comes looking for future permits. On May 13, 2013–unbeknownst to the mine’s neighbors or RMA–CEMEX stopped production at the Stillwell mine. This fact was not disclosed until the day CEMEX submitted its Interim Management Plan (IMP). An IMP is required one year and 90 days after a mine has ceased production in order for a mine to be declared idle and not abandoned. If Stillwell mine were declared abandoned, CEMEX would have been required to start the reclamation process immediately. Reclamation could cost the gravel mining company hundreds of thousands of dollars and may have motivated CEMEX to submit an IMP.
In exactly one year and 90 days after stopping production at Stillwell mine, Benchmark Resources, a consulting company hired by CEMEX, submitted a draft IMP document to the RMA. Mike Spata, director of the RMA, determined that, for a myriad of reasons, Stillwell mine did not meet the conditions to designate the mine as idle and their application was denied. CEMEX had 30 days to respond to the county’s findings. In their response they agreed with many of Spata’s findings and withdrew their IMP.
If CEMEX had been successful in getting the mine declared idle they could have stretched their permit out for another ten years without doing any reclamation. The question about whether, or when, CEMEX needs to submit another IMP is not clear.
Because the mine did not qualify as idle, it should have been declared abandoned and CEMEX should have been directed to start the reclamation process. But because RMA rejected the IMP, and CEMEX in turn withdrew their application, the mine’s status wallows in legal limbo. Now it is up to the lawyers to determine when, how–and if–an IMP should be submitted. This could take years. Either way, CEMEX has achieved its goal of avoiding costly reclamation–for now.