Cupertino cement plant gets letter from state

July 25, 2011 6:29:56 PM PDT
The state government is telling a cement plant in Cupertino it will no longer buy the plant's products, unless local officials approve its operations. The plant is already taking steps to drastically reduce mercury emissions.

The Lehigh Southwest Cement Company received a letter from the California Office of Mine Reclamation saying it must comply with an order within the next 30 days to get approval for its operations in the Cupertino hills.

The state is accusing Lehigh of expanding its mining of limestone at the Cupertino quarry to make cement without county approval. The order to comply within 30 days has teeth in it because, if it fails to do so, it will be taken off a list of approved quarries for government contracts. Lehigh supplies about half of the cement for Santa Clara County projects.

A group of Cupertino residents who have been urging enforcement action against Lehigh gathered at a park today to learn about the state's action.

"I don't know if they can do it within 30 days since they haven't been able to do it within six years. I'm sure they will at some point come into compliance, but I think what this notice does is put them on notice that they have to take this seriously," said Richard Adler from Bay Area For Clean Environment.

"We are in compliance with the law and we've been working diligently with the county, the lead agency, it's the Santa Clara County Planning Department, we've been working with them for several years now, and to their satisfaction," said Tim Mate from the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company.

Santa Clara County planning officials say they're puzzled by the state's action saying it would be impossible to review an operations plan within 30 days. So it is possible that an extension might be requested.

Lehigh says it has 153 employees at the Cupertino quarry and if it were barred from selling concrete to state projects, it would be costly to transport materials from its two other California quarries -- one near Redding and the other near Tehachapi.

Now, Lehigh Southwest Cement says the next step will have to be with their attorneys.

Residents, that have been fighting the plant, are cautious before calling this a victory. They say it is a victory for people power because they've been trying to get the plant to be in compliance for several years now and now they finally feel like someone is listening. And in this case, that would be the State Office of Mine Reclamation.

It is still a question if the workers could lose their jobs. If you lose 50-percent of your business and taken off a state-approved list for projects, that could greatly impact the production out of the Cupertino facility.

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