An early November meeting with Santa Clara County residents and regulators eased public concerns about the Lehigh Southwest Cement facilities in unincorporated Cupertino, Calif., reported the San Jose Mercury News. County Supervisor Joe Simitian hosted the informational two-hour meeting, and was joined by 12 representatives from seven different regulatory agencies.
“We have so many different regulatory agencies with responsibilities for the Lehigh plant and quarry,” Simitian explained. “I frankly thought that it would be helpful to create some kind of forum where these folks were given the opportunity – and, if I may say so, actually obliged – to sit down around the table and talk with one another because it’s a little hard to get different agencies all around the table at the same time.”
The seven agencies included the Bay Area Quality Management District, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health, Santa Clara County Planning and Development Department, The Santa Clara Valley Water District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Santa Clara County Counsel.
The main topics at the meeting addressed by Simitian and the representatives centered on resident concerns related to air quality, water quality and noise. Wayne Kino from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said that a new emissions stack at the cement facility is now operational and reduces emission points from more than 30 to only two. He also said that a number of permit regulations are being modified and should be implemented in early 2016.
Quality of the groundwater was also a main concern of residents at the meeting. In April, Lehigh agreed to a joint federal and state Clean Water Act settlement with the EPA that required the company to reduce toxic discharges of selenium and other metals into the Permanente Creek, which runs near the facility and into the San Francisco Bay.
A representative from the Santa Clara Valley Water District said water quality is improving near Lehigh. “There are 20 wells that we measure within four miles of the facility. When I took a look at the data, of 200 samples, 85 percent of them showed there’s not detectable signs of selenium, mercury or arsenic,” said Liang Lee from the Santa Clara Valley Water District. “Of the 15 percent that showed detectable signs, they’re all below the health-based standards”
Dyan Whyte from the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board said that her agency is setting up a way to gauge the safety of water located on the facility property and nearby. “We have a groundwater investigative unit, and we currently have Lehigh under an official order to do investigative work in relation to groundwater,” Whyte said. “Within the last two months they’ve installed 32 groundwater monitoring wells out there in very specific locations and very specific depths so that we could get a much better understanding of the hydrogeology in that region.”
In regard to noise complaints, Jim Blamey, who represented the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health, said, “In this particular case, because of the number and where the complaints were coming from, we decided to bring in an expert from outside to help us out with the noise.”
Lehigh Southwest Cement paid for a noise study, and consultants are drafting a report for the county. Blamey said the report should be posted on the county planning department’s website upon its completion in the next couple of months.
Simitian said panel discussions like these could take place at least twice a year, but a date for the next public meeting has not been set.