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NR 2001-48
June 15, 2001

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886

STATE MINING AND GEOLOGY BOARD RELIEVES EL DORADO COUNTY
OF LEAD AGENCY DUTIES RELATED TO SURFACE MINING LAW

SACRAMENTO -- The State Mining and Geology Board has relieved El Dorado County of its lead agency responsibilities under California's Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. The Board ruled that the county has failed to adequately implement and enforce SMARA, which is designed to protect the interests and safety of its citizens.

The Board issued a "45-Day Notice to Correct Deficiencies" to the county on April 12. During a public hearing in El Dorado Hills on June 14, the Board determined that El Dorado County had failed to address numerous violations at Weber Creek Quarry, Diamond Quarry, Chile Bar Slate Mine and Eureka Slate Mine. Under provisions of the Public Resources Code, the State Mining and Geology Board assumed lead agency authority for administrating SMARA in the county.

"The Board is assuming this responsibility because the public must be protected," SMGB Executive Officer John Parrish said. "Assuming lead agency status is a last resort. We have worked long and patiently to help the county bring all of its surface mines into compliance with the law, but many problems and deficiencies persist which the county seems unable or unwilling to address."

The SMGB has never before relieved a lead agency of its authority in the public's interest. The Board does, however, have full lead agency authority in five cities -- Chula Vista, Palm Springs, Chino Hills, Desert Hot Springs and American Canyon -- that don't have mining ordinances of their own. It also has partial lead agency authority in Colusa County, 16 cities and in the multi-jurisdictional San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. None of the dozens of mines in those locales have closed or violated provisions of SMARA during the Board's tenure as lead agency. The Board had full or partial lead agency status in 47 locales in the mid-1990s.

“We prefer to have local authority serve as lead agency for SMARA,” Parrish said. “The Board has returned local authority to lead agency status more than 20 times in the last five years.”

The State Mining and Geology Board received complaints about various problems at surface mines from El Dorado County citizens starting in November of 1996. More than 300 residents signed petitions asking the Board to intercede because of inaction on the part of local authorities.

"We were urged by very frustrated residents to take a look at the county's enforcement of SMARA," Parrish said. "It was very much a grass-roots movement. While we haven't heard that volume of public outcry elsewhere, we have received appeals to review the efforts of some other lead agencies around the state and may do so in the future."

SMARA was enacted in 1975 by the California Legislature to address the need for a continuing supply of mineral resources, and to prevent or minimize the negative impacts of surface mining to public health, property and the environment.

Under SMARA, lead agencies review applications for permits and/or reclamation plans, submit reclamation plans and financial assurances to the State for technical review and comment prior to approval, annually review financial assurances, annually inspect mining operations for compliance, and take enforcement actions where necessary.

In March 2000, the State Mining and Geology Board assumed El Dorado County's authority to conduct inspections after issuing a 45-Day Notice to Correct Deficiencies in February of 1999. The Notice issued in April of this year followed the completion of the Board's annual inspections of surface mines within the county's jurisdiction.

Among the specific violations cited by the SMGB in relieving El Dorado County of lead agency authority:

  • The county has taken no action over the past year to prevent Weber Creek Quarry from conducting mining activities and exporting mined materials even after the county issued a Cease and Desist Order May 17, 2000. The county has allowed mining operations to continue with full knowledge that the quarry has no approved financial assurances.
     

  • The working face of Weber Creek Quarry has encroached upon neighboring parcels and has been over-excavated to the point that the approved reclamation plan is inadequate.

  • The county has allowed excavation of the high walls of Diamond Quarry to encroach upon establish setbacks despite being informed of violations by Department of Conservation inspectors on April 21, 1999.

  • The county has allowed Diamond Quarry to exceed its maximum allowable depth by at least 80 feet.

  • The county has not required the operator of Chile Bar Slate Mine to revise the current reclamation plan or financial assurances in light of changing conditions at the mine site.

  • The county has not enforced SMARA or its own ordinance by not requiring the operator of Eureka Slate Mine to have a reclamation plan, financial assurances or a permit prior to conducting mining operations.

"Many of these deficiencies have existed for at least the past three years, and the county is well aware of that," Parrish said.

After three years, a hearing may be held to determine whether to return lead agency status to El Dorado County.

"It is our sincere hope that the State Mining and Geology Board's assumption of this authority is a temporary action that will lead to permanent solutions to problems within the county," Parrish said.

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