Santa Clara Co. Tells Lehigh Quarry to Fix Pollution Issue

In a 5-0 vote Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors authorized staff to report back about a nearly year-old violation issued to Cupertino’s Lehigh Southwest Cement Company for discharging pollution into Permanente Creek.

Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose district encompasses the quarry, said he called for the update to “resolve this particular issue once and for all.”

“Look, it’s been nine months since the violation, and we still don’t have a resolution,” he said. “Staff argues one side and Lehigh argues another. We still haven’t gotten a clear resolution, and we need to.”

The county slapped the cement plant with a violation notice in June last year for failing to control sedimentation runoff and failing to comply with permit conditions.

At a December Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee, Simitian declared that he would bring the matter back to the board of supes if it wasn’t resolved by February. Clearly, that didn’t happen.

Instead, the county planners are preparing a report for the board in the coming weeks about what the company is doing to protect nearby waterways.

“My primary concern is that the violation is abated, and we can be sure the facility is operating lawfully,” Simitian said.

When Lehigh build its quarry in the Cupertino hills in 1903, the area was far removed from where anyone lived. But the city grew up around it and the plant not lies near residential neighborhoods, where it creates lots of noise and pollution.

When Simitian returned to the county board after a stint in the state Senate, he pushed for stronger oversight of the cement plant by ramping up on-site inspections. The supervisor also hosts a yearly meeting for residents to stay informed about the operation and hear updates about it from relevant regulatory agencies.

In a statement provided by a company spokesman, a Lehigh official said she wants to get all this behind them as much as the county does. “We share Supervisor Simitian’s desire to resolve this issue,” Lehigh Environmental Director Erika Guerra said. “Lehigh has worked diligently to protect the creek by implementing all mitigation actions prior to the commencement of the current rainy ’19-’20 season. Over the past eight months, Lehigh has provided to county staff all the necessary records to resolve this matter. With the supervisors’ actions, we are encouraged that we will be recognized for these efforts and be able to officially bring this matter to a close.”

7 Comments

  1. Alarming optics. The plant was cited in June. Revisited in December, then again in February. If failing to meet requirements, why aren’t they shuttered by this point?

    A link to the actual violation order and permit conditions will help. It’s unclear to what extent County bureaucrats versus Lehigh warrant corrective action. By all appearances, it is lax enforcement.

  2. I agree with your scanario. County has no balls to proced because of Dems in Sacramento dont back them nor does Bat Area Water Quality board. Enjot this 60 year old mess people.

  3. Simitian is still sugar coating this – no surprise, since he has taken donations from Lehigh over the years. The pollution in the creek started over a decade ago, several years ago the Sierra club sued Lehigh over and won, Simitians talking about a notice issued because Lehigh did not comply with the rulings of the lawsuit, effectively thumbing their nose at the courts and community, as they have been for decades..

  4. Did you not know there was a cement plant when you bought your house.
    Are you that stupid to buy a house near an industrial facility and then think you get to shut it down.

    You moved there…. deal with it dumbasses.

    The facility is a blessing for jobs, the product that is much needed locally.

    Backwards tree hugging thinking. How do you think your slab on your home was built.

    Grrrrrr

  5. Threats to the Permanente Creek that lead to the San Francisco Bay Estuary remain. Now the experts are calling the source of the sediment a landslide: “The Yeager Yard Landslide mass is moving towards Permanente Creek and its mass is sufficiently large to block the creek . . . creating a new debris flow hazard to structures and residences downstream.” (see 5/12/2020 BOS Agenda item 20 Packet Pg. 774). The Notice of Violation addressed sediment that was getting into the creek, not the larger problem. The landslide is being monitored, but no amount of monitoring will keep it from sliding if we have a very wet winter. The local limestone is very high in naturally-occurring contaminants and, in my opinion, should not be quarried or manufactured at the cement plant, which burns petroleum-coke (a dirty, cheap fuel). The EPA shows Lehigh to be out of compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and does not compare favorably with the other 7 cement plants in California. As to jobs, the Department of Labor shows about 24 jobs at the quarry and Lehigh has been hiring non-union, non-local labor for a lot of quarry work. Furthermore, Lehigh’s new plan is to defer court-ordered restoration of the Permanente Creek by 10 years, which would have been wonderful for creating jobs!

  6. While it is unfortunate that Lehigh produces so much pollution, terminating its operations will create MORE pollution. If Lehigh is closed, thousands of tons of cement aggregate will have to be trucked into Santa Clara County from plants near Bakersfield and/or Redding. The new Valco project will require millions of tons of concrete and the idea of trucking that in from hundreds of miles away instead of three or four miles away is not environmentally sound.

    Terminating Lehigh’s operations during a construction boom in the Silicon Valley will increase particulate pollution, GHG emissions, traffic, potentially car accidents and have other unintended consequences.

    It is unfortunate that we as a society live one GIANT MONSTER SUV or truck per person and that most of our surroundings have to be paved over for driving and parking purposes. Closing Lehigh isn’t going to solve that problem. It is going to make it worse. The problem isn’t concrete plants, it is the way we live. Closing Lehigh and living the same way means the same volume of cement, it just gets trucked in from someplace else.

    If you look at satellite maps, the areas where increased cement production will need to ramp up to replace Lehigh if it closes – those places are relatively undeveloped and in areas with low population density and relatively low pollution. The Silicon Valley is already almost entirely paved – if you look at a satellite map, it is just a big block of cement with a few parks. Closing Lehigh will export some of that pollution away from THE SOURCE OF DEMAND to rural places that aren’t yet as toxic as the Silicon Valley and then TRUCK in the material from hundreds of miles away.

    It would be nice to turn things around. But the Silicon Valley should not export some of its pollution to areas that are relatively unpolluted like Redding. The Silicon Valley already has the highest concentration of superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in the United States and the idea that it will help to close Lehigh to pollute Redding or Bakersfield and create a massive increase in truck traffic moving millions of tons of cement hundreds of miles instead of three or five or ten miles is morally bankrupt.

    And the drinking water is almost certainly not being polluted by the quarry. The quarry pollutes the creek, which does injure and damage animals, but not people. Our drinking water comes from deep wells from the San Jose Water Company and to the extent that there are dangerous chemicals in there, it’s from Intel, AMD, Fairchild, the defense companies and others who used extremely dangerous solvents and chemicals to manufacture chips, transistors, etc. here before we moved that highly toxic process to places where people aren’t allowed to publicly complain… you know, the companies where you all work.

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