A lawsuit has put a halt to a ban on Lehigh Southwest Cement from selling cement and quarry materials to key customers, state and local government agencies, at least for now.
Lehigh filed a suit against the California State Department of Conservation (DOC) in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Aug. 11, just one week before the ban would have taken place.
That means for now, the company’s Permanente Quarry, just outside of Cupertino, can continue to sell cement to government agencies, until a court makes a decision as to whether the proposed ban by the DOC is legal. A case management hearing is scheduled for Jan. 17, 2012, according to the Superior Court website.
Lehigh filed the suit against the DOC in concert with several labor and business groups, claiming that the site’s approximately 150 jobs would be on the line, along with jobs at companies that do business with Lehigh and the government.
“This action, if not enjoined by the court, would shut down a critical source of construction materials, relied upon by road, highway and other infrastructure projects throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. The results would be severe,” Lehigh’s suit contends.
In court documents, the company provides a list of 30 projects in the region using its materials, everything from the Golden Gate Bridge seismic upgrade, to the Stanford Hospital and parking garage construction, to numerous roads, highways and dams under repair or expansion.
"As it appears, is Lehigh claiming in their lawsuit that they are too big to fail?" asked Joyce Eden, leader of a local activist organization, West Valley Citizens Air Watch.
Eden and other activists, like Paula Wallis of Bay Area Clean Environment (BACE), expressed dismay over the lawsuit, “instead of putting its house in order and complying with the law,” Wallis said.
The legal move delayed the company from , a list of approved state mines that can sell cement and quarry products to state and local governments. It’s named for a 1992 Assembly bill that requires mining operations to have approved reclamation plans and financial deposits in order to do business with the government.
On July 20, the Department of Conservation issued notice stating that because the company was not in compliance with certain state regulations concerning its reclamation plans, it faced removal from the list. It had 30 days to attempt compliance; however, meeting the regulations would mean a lengthy process in fixing long-standing problems and receiving approvals from the lead agency overseeing the quarry, Santa Clara County.
Both Lehigh and Department of Conservation officials declined to be interviewed, because of the impending litigation, but Lehigh officials contended in previous statements that they are fully in compliance with all rules and regulations and have met all previous deadlines for its reclamation plan.
"If you look at the requirements of AB 3098, Lehigh very definitely does not meet them and, therefore, should not be on the list," said Wallis in a statement released by BACE, formerly No Toxic Air, over the weekend.
Yet in court documents, the company emphasized that it has met every deadline for updating its 1985 reclamation plan, pointing out that the state itself had requested new information and procedures along the way that had delayed the plan being completed for approval by Santa Clara County. The original plan completion date was Dec. 30, 2007.
The company and the Santa Clara County Planning Department are moving ahead with completing a new reclamation plan, expected to be sent to the Board of Supervisors for approval by mid-2012.
County planners are conducting a public hearing on Aug. 30, in Cupertino to discuss the environmental impact report related to the new plan. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Quinlan Center, 10185 N. Stelling Rd.
In a related the Board of Supervisors are considering whether to declare the road into Lehigh, Permanente Road, into a private thoroughfare. , as part of their approval of the company’s vested mining rights on Feb. 8.
The meeting will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the county headquarters, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.
If the road were public, the company would be required by law to follow certain mining regulations. The group BACE filed suit in May asking a judge to overturn the supervisor’s vested rights decision, and specifically asked the court to declare Permanente Road public.