“Don’t Chop the Top” Has First Success

Landslide on right side is in the area of the easement. Photo by Jitze Couperus

This month, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors took the first long-needed step to protect a hillside that is part of Lehigh Quarry, the giant quarry scarring the hills above Cupertino and Los Altos Hills. County staff will now begin researching better ways to enforce protection of the hillside Lehigh has been damaging. Thank you to the over 200 Green Foothills supporters who responded to our call to action and submitted emails to the Supervisors in favor of the proposal.

While this is only a first step, it comes at a crucial time.

The Problem: Lehigh Seeks Massive Expansion Despite Massive Environmental Impacts

Lehigh Quarry, formerly Kaiser Permanente Quarry, is the oldest and by far the largest operating quarry in Santa Clara County. The quarry has devastated hundreds of acres of land and created major and illegal water pollution problems in Permanente Creek. The associated cement plant – that processes the mined limestone to create cement – has been one of the most significant sources of pollution, including greenhouse gases, in California.

Recently, Lehigh applied for a massive expansion of its quarry operations. It plans to enlarge the main pit under the guise of stabilizing the ridgeline it damaged and create a new mining pit south of the current operations. This would destroy another 60 acres of habitat, facilitate cement plant operations (the plant is currently closed), and significantly delay Lehigh’s legal obligation to restore the land once operations cease.

Degrading the ridgeline above the main pit is especially pernicious. Lehigh has been legally obligated for decades not to lower that ridgeline. Regardless, Lehigh mined too close to the ridge causing a series of landslides that lowered it 50-100 feet below the promised level. Now Lehigh wants to lower it about another 100 feet, supposedly to stabilize the ridge, while they mine more materials out of it.

The Solution: “Don’t Chop the Top”

Green Foothills is supporting County Supervisor Joe Simitian’s “Don’t chop the top” effort. Along with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, we advocated for Supervisor Simitian’s proposal to share enforcement authority of the ridgeline easement with Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD). We submitted a joint letter, spoke at a press conference organized by the Supervisor, and testified at the County hearing.

The County and MROSD worked together to protect neighboring Rancho San Antonio Park and Preserve. Giving MROSD the authority to help enforce the easement would be an appropriate way to stop the ongoing harm and protect both the neighboring park and the public.

After County Supervisors unanimously voted to direct staff to consider options for sharing enforcement authority, MROSD’s Directors did the same with their own staff. We expect to hear the results in August, and look forward to next steps on protecting the ridgeline. We will work for a strong and protective stance for the environment in general at Lehigh, including rejection of the massive expansion that has been proposed.

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