May 28, 2005
VISALIA -- An appeal to stop Kaweah River Rock's plan to establish a large mine near Woodlake was denied this week, paving the way for the company to shift its operations to a new 280-acre site.
The unanimous decision by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors to deny an appeal of the county Planning Commission's vote to approve the mine came six years after company officials first proposed building a new mine on land between the Kaweah River and Avenue 332, near Woodlake.
The chief concerns for those opposing the mine were the impact on local water wells, noise and dust pollution, and the more than 300 gravel truck trips down area roads each day the mine operated.
The mine, 45 to 55 feet deep, will cut through the aquifer that supplies much of the ground water for that area of Tulare County. Kaweah River Rock officials will build a wall around the mine to redirect underground water flows, and plan to restore water that does flow into the mine back to the aquifer.
In 1999, many of the same residents fought Kaweah River Rock's proposal for a much larger version of the project approved this week. That mine would have covered more than 800 acres. Kaweah River Rock operates a 260-acre mine on the other side of the St. John's river. That mine is expected to run out of sand, gravel and rock in the next two years. The new mine is believed to contain enough of those materials to support area builders for 30 years. When the new mine closes, it will be used as a temporary water storage facility, a factor supervisors said was key in their decision to approve the mine.
Supervisor Steve Worthley said it was very telling when Bruce George, general manager of the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District, came out in support of the mine. Two weeks ago, George told supervisors that if his district could afford to build the mine just for future water storage, it would.
"We believe the project provides protection for water resources today and will add a future benefit," George said.
Worthley said the approval from the water district carried a lot of weight.
"These are the folks that are charged with the responsibility of improving and maintaining the ground-water supply sources. They believe there is enough benefit from this project to water supplies, and that benefit is just a sideline to the other products that will be produced," Worthley said.
David Harrald, general manager of Kaweah River Rock Co., said he is moving forward immediately, seeking other entitlements needed for the project such as Caltrans permits and air quality permits. Harrald said the new mine is vital because his company already cannot keep pace with demand.
"I would expect to start some grading work on the new mine in six months, and it will be operational in 18 months to two years," Harrald said.
For neighbors of both the existing mine and the new project, this week's decision isn't necessarily the final word. Supervisors' agendas have carried the item under possible litigation for several weeks, and Susan Crawford, a member of Valley Citizens for Water, says a lawsuit is possible, but no decisions have been made.
"We don't know yet. We're just going to take a break for a few days and take care of other aspects of our lives," Crawford said.
Harrald said he is confident that the permit for the mine will withstand any legal tests.
"We have the permit, and we got it on a unanimous vote. We're going to move forward," Harrald said.
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For information on Kaweah River Rock Company, contact Dave Harrald at 564-3302
or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.