Permanente Frequently Asked Questions

    The Lehigh Cement Plant operation is an authorized use operating under a Use Permit, County File No. 173.023, originally issued on May 8, 1939. The use permit was modified in June 1950 and May 1955 to add rotary kilns to the operations. The County approved a use permit modification associated with modernization of the cement plant on December 5, 1977.

    The Permanente Quarry is a limestone and aggregate mining operation in the Santa Clara County western foothills, located along a sinuous, roughly east-west trending ridge within the Santa Cruz Mountains, west of the City of Cupertino’s jurisdictional limits. The mine has a single, very large pit where limestone and aggregate are quarried. West of the mine pit is an overburden stockpile area known as the West Materials Storage Area, and the area to the east where overburden is currently being placed is identified as the East Materials Storage Area.

    In 1975 the State of California adopted the Surface Mine and Reclamation Act, which mandates that all active surface mines have reclamation plans approved by the local agency. The County of Santa Clara approved the existing reclamation plan for the Permanente Quarry on March 7, 1985.​​

    The County must ensure that the quarrying operations on the unincorporated lands (where the County has jurisdiction to issue land use approvals) comply with the County’s zoning regulations. In accordance with the zoning regulations, quarrying generally requires a Use Permit; however, no Use Permit is required if quarrying is a legal nonconforming use (sometimes referred to as a “vested right”) on the property.

    The term “vested right” is a legal term that means someone has a lawful right to engage in a particular land use. To have a vested right in a land use, the use must have been commenced in compliance with all legal requirements at the time the use was begun (which may have meant no legal requirements at all, depending upon when the use was begun), and not subsequently abandoned. A vested land use may become a “legal nonconforming use” if the regulatory landscape has changed and the land use would either not be allowed in that particular location today, or could only be undertaken after obtaining certain permits or other regulatory approvals. Today, the County regulations require a Use Permit before quarrying may take place.​​

    The County Board of Supervisors made a determination, following a public hearing on February 8, 2011, that the quarry was a vested right on several of the Quarry owned parcels. The “vested” parcels include the parcels containing the Pit, the West Materials Storage Area (WMSA), the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA), and the access roads within the mine operation. This determination is the subject of a pending lawsuit. It is important to note and understand that this determination did not constitute a land use authorization. Even where a mine is vested for local zoning purposes it must have an approved Reclamation Plan pursuant to state and County regulations.​​

    2006 Notice of Violation

    In October 2006, the County of Santa Clara issued the Notice of Violation and Order to Comply (NOV/OTC) to the mine operator of Permanente Quarry for mining activities located outside the boundary of the Permanente Quarry Reclamation Plan, which the County approved in 1985. In January 2007, the mine operator submitted an application to amend the 1985 Reclamation Plan in accordance with the NOV/OTC. The County deemed the application complete, and it was determined that extensive geological analysis was necessary to adequately address slope stability issues in the existing pit. In December 2007 the mine operator requested, and was given, 24 months to complete the geological analysis. The analysis was completed and the analysis determined that major modifications to the application were required due to geological issues. Lehigh, current mine operator, submitted a revised application on May 28, 2010 and the application was deemed complete on September 24, 2010. This project is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A Draft Environmental Impact Report was released for public review and comment on December 23, 2011.

    2008 Notice of Violation

    The County of Santa Clara issued a second Notice of Violation (NOV) in June 2008 to the mine operator of Permanente Quarry for stockpiling overburden material in the area commonly referred to as the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA) because it is not within the boundary of the 1985 Permanente Quarry Reclamation Plan. The original complaint made to the County was that petroleum coke was being stored in this location. Following a field inspection the County determined that the material that was suspected to be petroleum coke was actually overburden excavated from the mine pit. The NOV provided the operator with two options for addressing the violation: (1) remove the material, or (2) apply for and obtain an amendment to the existing approved reclamation plan for Permanente Quarry. An approved amended reclamation plan would authorize retaining the material in the EMSA and provide for reclamation consistent with state and County mine reclamation standards. The mine operator chose to apply for the reclamation plan amendment and this application is under review.

    The NOV also required that the mine operator cease use of the EMSA. The operator approached the County and explained that immediate use of the EMSA was necessary for operational reasons, because the approved location to permanently store the overburden (the WMSA) is running out of room. Without using the EMSA the operator would be forced to leave the material in the pit, which would prevent the operator from excavating some of the remaining mineral reserves. Following consultation with the state Office of Mining and Reclamation, the County signed an agreement with Lehigh stipulating a rigorous schedule to complete the work necessary to submit a reclamation plan amendment application to address the NOV and all other information required to complete the associated environmental review. The agreement also stipulates that the County retains its authority to impose fines against the operator, if necessary.​

    The County is the lead agency responsible for implementing the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) within unincorporated Santa Clara County. The state regulations under the SMARA provide the County authority to require a violation be “cured” or abated by filing for and obtaining a reclamation plan amendment. SMARA establishes certain procedural requirements that a lead agency must follow when taking enforcement action against a mine operator. These requirements include notice, a public hearing, and issuance of an order specifying what the operator must do to bring the mining operation into compliance, and a schedule for doing so. The County may not impose a fine unless the mine operator fails to comply with the terms of the order to comply. An operator may also appeal any fine to the State Mining and Geology Board.

    Because the County issued an NOV and entered into an agreement with the mine operator providing that, as long as the mine operator timely filed and obtained an amendment to the Reclamation Plan, which would “cure” the violation, the mine operator could continue to use the EMSA. Fines may still be imposed by the County if for some reason, the mine operator fails to comply with the County’s order. Thus far, the mine operator has taken actions to correct the 2006 and 2008 Notices of Violations. These actions originally included filing for two separate Reclamation Plan Amendment proposals, one for each of the NOVs; however, these two proposals were consolidated into one proposal intended to address both NOVs. For this reason, it would not be appropriate to impose fines at this time.

    The East Materials Storage Area is needed for mine operations, and without the ability to use the EMSA the operator could not properly harvest minerals from the mine pit. Therefore, the County agreed to allow the mine operator to use the EMSA subject to compliance with very strict conditions. The County and Lehigh signed an agreement on April 14, 2009, that required the operator submit an application for an amendment to the reclamation plan addressing the EMSA by April 20, 2009. Lehigh submitted the application by the required deadline and has met all subsequent deadlines established by the agreement. For this reason, no fines have been assessed to date. Any non-compliance with the conditions of the agreement would trigger the process for the County to impose fines or take other enforcement action against the mine operator.​ ​

    Lehigh Hanson submitted an application for a reclamation plan amendment and a use permit on May 28, 2010. Staff refers to this proposal as the “Comprehensive Reclamation Plan Amendment.” This proposal was intended to provide for reclamation of all the areas of disturbance at the existing Permanente Quarry. It also proposed an expansion affecting approximately 251 acres with a second pit mine.

    In June 2011 Lehigh Hanson informed the County that it would no longer pursue a second pit mine and subsequently submitted a modified Reclamation Plan Amendment application on July 29, 2011. The application encompasses all existing areas of disturbance where mining operations have taken and/or continue to take place, including the East Materials Storage Area. The County is now processing one Reclamation Plan Amendment proposal, rather than two.

    A revised scheduled was prepared for completion of the review of this Modified RPA. The first milestone was publishing the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), prepared as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), in December 2011. The County will hold an informational public workshop on the DEIR on January 26, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. in the Quinlan Community Center, 10185 N. Stelling Road, Cupertino, CA 95014. A public meeting to receive comments on the adequacy of the DEIR will be held on February 2, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. in the County Government Center, Board of Supervisors Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110 before the County Planning Commission.​​

    Lehigh Southwest Cement Company operates under a valid Title V Permit issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) on November 5, 2003. The Title V Permit is a compilation of all existing applicable local, state, and federal air quality requirements, including emissions limits and standards, monitoring, record-keeping, and reporting requirements. Title V permits are renewed on a 5-year cycle. When an application for renewal is submitted by the operator the existing permit remains in effect until permit renewal is completed by BAAQMD.

    Lehigh Southwest Cement Company submitted an application for renewal of its Title V Permit on April 28, 2008. On January 5, 2010, the BAAQMD withdrew the proposed Title V permit renewal for the Lehigh facility because the Federal EPA was expected to adopt significantly more stringent standards for mercury and other air contaminants from cement plants. The new standards were announced on August 9, 2010, and enacted by the U.S. EPA on September 9, 2010.

    BAAQMD posted a proposed Title V Permit that incorporates the new rules on its web site, and issued a notice informing the public. The public review and comment period of the revised Title V permit renew commenced on January 21, 2011, and closed on March 25, 2011. According to BAAQMD staff have since been reviewing and considering comments received. BAAQMD will then submit the proposed permit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its mandated 45-day review. Questions regarding the revised proposed permit renewal should be directed to Ms. Thu Bui of BAAQMD by writing to her at 939 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94109, or via email at [email protected].

    Information may also be obtained from the internet at this link:​

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Notice of Violation and Finding of Violation (NOV/FOV) to Lehigh on March 10, 2010. The NOV/FOV concerns a series of physical modifications made to the Facility from 1996 through 1999, that caused an increase in production of cement and an increase in emissions of air pollutants. As a result, the NOV/FOV also states that Lehigh violated the Title V Operating Permit program, because it failed to identify Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) requirements in its application submitted to the BAAQMD after installing the modifications. The NOV/FOV states that Lehigh violated Title V requirements. It describes enforcement that may be taken by the EPA, including the assessment of penalties, but it does not invalidate the Title V Permit that Lehigh currently holds. The NOV/FOV remains an active investigation and the EPA has released no further details at this time.

    The Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) conducted a storm water inspection of the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant on February 10, 2010, and issued an inspection report. The RWQCB issued a Notice of Violation based on this report on March 26, 2010. The inspection report lists eleven violations that require abatement. Ten of these violations were to have corrective actions completed by April 15, 2010; one violation was to have corrective action completed by May 15, 2010.

    In June 2011, the RWQCB issued a Water Code section 13267 Order to Lehigh that requires a comprehensive plan to address discharges from the Permanente facility to ensure compliance with the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the Federal Clean Water Act, and applicable water quality standards. The deadlines in the June 2011 Order were slightly amended in July 2011. In accordance with this plan, process-related discharges from the Permanente facility were authorized in October and November 2011 by the RWQCB pursuant to the General NPDES Permit for Aggregate Mining, Sand Washing, and Sand Offloading operations, Order No. R2-2008-0011 ("Sand & Gravel Permit"). Lehigh submitted a Report of Waste Discharge to the Regional Water Board on November 30, 2011, for purposes of obtaining an individual NPDES Permit for the facility that will specifically regulate pollutants of concern, including selenium. The RWQCB is in the process of preparing and issuing that NPDES permit, and Lehigh submitted a comprehensive monitoring plan to the RWQCB on October 20, 2011 to support its issuance.​​​

    Please send your contact information and any questions to the attention of: Robert Salisbury, Senior Planner, County of Santa Clara, Planning Office.

    Email: [email protected]
    Phone: (408) 299-5785

    Mail: County of Santa Clara Planning Office
    Attn: Robert Salisbury
    70 West Hedding Street, East Wing, 7th Floor
    San Jose, CA 95110​

    Dr. Parrish, State Geologist states, “quarry blasting cannot cause an “earthquake.” Although the ground might “shake” or rumble as a nearby result of a blast, this is not a damaging tectonic earthquake, and these blasts do not contain enough energy to trigger a pre-existing fault to slip and generate an earthquake. Tectonic earthquakes in California generally occur at depths between five and eleven miles below the land surface – significantly deeper than a quarry blast at perhaps several hundred feet below the land surface. The energy released by a quarry blast is several million times less than that required to nucleate a fault to move and produce an earthquake. Earthquakes can be caused by human activity, and are labeled “induced” seismicity or “triggered” earthquakes. However, there has not been a recorded case of a quarry blast inducing or triggering an earthquake.” - John G. Parrish, Ph. D., PG, State Geologist, California Geological Survey​

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