CEMEX has applied for permits to continue mining north of Fresno for another 100 years — with a proposal to expand operations by blasting and drilling a 600-feet deep pit into hard rock near the San Joaquin River.
Fresno County on June 3 deemed the company’s application to modify the Rockfield Aggregate Facility on North Friant Road complete, triggering an environmental review process and public hearing at 6 p.m. June 24 (Click here for details on the Zoom meeting).
Saying in a project description that there is a demand for high-quality construction supplies, including concrete and asphalt, the company proposes to modify the cement plant and quarry on Friant Road and use explosives to mine hard rock that sits below the gravel, sand and rock that’s currently mined a half-mile from the river.
While sand and gravel mining near the surface has occurred at the site since 1913, this would likely be the first use of explosives for deep mining of hard rock anywhere along the river.
Potential environmental impacts identified by county staff include increased truck traffic along Friant Road, noise and vibration from blasting, air pollution, slope stability, and water quality impacts.
CEMEX spokesman Walker Robinson said the region needs the supplies.
“The Fresno region is in need of more than 6 million tons of construction aggregate a year over the next 50 years,” Robinson said in an email to The Bee, adding that the quarry has supplied construction aggregate for decades for homes, commercial projects, streets and highways and local schools and hospitals.
But, the project is at odds with the vision of organizations like San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust that prioritize recreation over industry for future use along the river, where development, dams and water diversions over the years have disrupted salmon and steelhead habitat and limited public access.
Sharon Weaver, director of Parkway Trust, said CEMEX’S application “was a huge surprise” as she was under the impression that mining along the river was coming to an end.
“This would be the second-largest open-pit mine in the state of California. Creating a mine of that size next to a large river system seems like a bad choice,” Weaver told The Bee.
Mining has occurred on the river for many years, creating building materials for the region, she said. “At the same time, it makes you ask: ‘Hasn’t this gone on long enough? Is it maybe time to start looking for a new use for the river bottom?’”
In proposing the project, the company website says it has been good stewards of the river, and “to this end, the plan proposes deeper mining but will not expand the boundaries of the current operations.”
“CEMEX’s current mining operations have been in existence as a neighbor with the San Joaquin River Parkway since the Parkway’s inception and have not prevented or interfered with operations on adjacent Parkway properties, which are reclaimed former mining sites providing wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities,” Walker said.
The plan calls for restoration of 349 acres of open space, and riparian and open water habitat once the hard rock is depleted.
Mining in groundwater basin
Currently, the CEMEX company operates an aggregate plant and ready-mix concrete plant on Friant Road, north of Willow Avenue, and a quarry south of Lost Lake Park. The proposed project calls for two stages of expanded mining over 100 years:
Stage 1: Mining deeper at the quarry and continued processing at the plant site for another 30 years. An aggregate processing plant would be added to the quarry site to wash, screen, crush and sort the aggregate.
Stage 2: Continue to mine deeper at the quarry, and relocate the plant facilities to the quarry site and mine below the current plant for the following 70 years.
Mining requires water.
The surrounding water basin is in overdraft, according to the state of California, meaning water users are required to develop a plan to stop using water from the basin faster than it can recharge.
The company’s plan would continue to pull water from the river and wells for the mining and processing operation, about 240 acre feet of water per year from groundwater and 102 acre feet of water per year of river water, according to the project description.
In its application, the company says it employs 92 workers between the Rockfield facility, an administrative office in Fresno and a concrete plant in south Fresno. If approved, the project would maintain those jobs and add an estimated five employees.
Monica Vaughan is a reporter for Fresnoland, a reporting and engagement lab dedicated to covering land use, housing, water and development in the central San Joaquin Valley.