by Diana Bulls
The fate of Jesse Morrow Mountain still waits to be seen. Will Cemex, a huge multi-national company, prevail and reduce Jesse Morrow to gravel, or will the so-called “Gateway to the Sierras” remain in its current pristine condition?
Following the close of the public hearing on February 9, the Fresno County Planning Commissioners postponed an expected decision. As of today, a continued public hearing has not been scheduled but one is expected.
According to the Fresno County Planning Commission staff, they have been directed by County Administration to consider using the County Plaza Ballroom as a possible venue for the next hearing. Maximum seating for this room is 495. As far as additional public comments being allowed, the staff says that the public comment portion of the hearing on February 9 was closed and the continued hearing will have a rebuttal and surrebuttal component. However, the Planning Commission could choose to reopen public comment and take more testimony.
One of the major parts of the discussion brought to the hearing by Cemex included their endorsement of a reduced alternative to their original project plan.
In the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), it was noted that there were several environmental impacts that were deemed significant. Impacts that even after mitigation measures were applied were still deemed significant and unavoidable. These impacts included aesthetic/visual resources, air quality, cultural resources, traffic and transportation. Fresno County Planning Commission staff included several alternative plans in the DEIR to help avoid or at least reduce some of the concerns.
After considering the public comments regarding the final EIR, according to Cemex representatives, the company is endorsing a reduced version of FEIR Alternative 4, known as “Reduced Alternative 4.” This alternative will preserve the existing ridgeline of Jesse Morrow Mountain and calls for a substantial reduction in the size and duration of the project, two issues Cemex felt were of primary concern to the public.
Reduced Alternative 4 incorporates minor modifications in the FEIR Alternative 4 design to significantly lessen negative impacts that would have otherwise resulted. In addition to preserving Jesse Morrow Mountain’s existing ridgeline, Reduced Alternative 4 incorporates the following:
• Reduces the project’s “footprint”
• Reduces yearly and overall mining rate from 2 million tons per year to 1.5 million tons per year
• Reduces the lifespan of the project by half, from 100 years to 50 years
According to Cemex, Reduced Alternative 4 would decrease the surface disturbance by approximately 61 percent, or about 245 acres, as compared to the original proposal. The maximum annual production would be reduced by approximately 25 percent (1.5 million tons as compared to 2 million tons), and the life of the mine by 50 percent (50 years as compared to 100 years). Reduced Alternative 4 would lead to a commensurate decrease in impacts to agriculture, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, and traffic.
Detailed information about this alternative is available on the County’s website.
In addition, Cemex has provided interactive web links that simulate potential views of Jesse Morrow Mountain from various locations. This website takes a while to load up, but once it opens click on the tabs to show roads, cameras, etc. If you click on a camera it will bring up a photo of the project site from that location. To return, click somewhere in the middle of the photo.
It is worth your time to check these web sites out.
My (long-suffering) husband Jim and I did a little experiment: we drove by Jesse Morrow on Hwy 180 and parked by the side of the road in several locations on the south side of the mountain. We tried to visualize the landscaped berms that are supposed to “hide” the mine operations and I must confess I just don’t see it working. The landscaping would have to be pretty big and/or the berms pretty tall, and that will be very out of place on that side of the mountain.
I also found the plant “typical hours of operation” interesting. Daily hours are normally 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. However crush/processing will take place between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., blasting between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., asphalt 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., and ready-mix 3 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus trucks going in and out. It will be a pretty busy place.
Finally, I visited some other California Cemex locations online and from the photos I saw I come to this conclusion. Granted those situations are not identical to Jesse Morrow, but all aggregate mining appears to lead to four things:
1. Blasting a big hole in the ground, causing
2. Thick clouds of dust, and
3. Lots of machinery to process and remove the finished product,
4. All of which cause a lot of noise
If this project is approved, all of the above will be taking place DAILY for the next 50 years.
NOTE: I emailed a list of questions to each of the Planning Commissioners and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. After three weeks, I only heard back from the Fresno County P.C. Staff.