Fresno County granted a three-year extension for CEMEX to continue mining the San Joaquin River. Source: Google Maps

What's at stake?

City of Fresno leaders are expected to take their fight to the courts.

Fresno County supervisors on Tuesday granted a three-year extension of a controversial, century-old CEMEX mining claim on the northern outskirts of Fresno, setting the stage for a possible legal fight with environmentalists and California’s fifth-largest city.

The supervisors approved an extension of a gravel mining permit owned by CEMEX, a multinational company based in Mexico.

CEMEX’s mining claim permit near Lost Lake Park was set to expire at the end of July.

Critics argued the project’s 1986 environmental impact report needs to be revised.

However, supporters praised the operation’s economic and employment benefits. They argued the project hasn’t changed since the study was conducted 36 years ago. Supporters have also said California needs new construction to grow and combat the lingering housing crisis.

Legal fight over CEMEX mining claim in the works?

In a March 1 letter, City Planning Director Jennifer Clark said “substantial changes” occurred that “require major revisions to the previous EIR.”

Additionally, Fresno city leaders promised a legal fight if the county supervisors proceeded with the extension.

After the vote, Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz told Fresnoland that the City Council would have to vote on potential lawsuits.

“All options are on the table at this point,” Janz said.

In a statement to reporters later on Tuesday, Janz doubled down on the city’s criticism.

“The county’s reliance on the outdated EIR is improper,” Janz said in a statement, “and does not accurately reflect the true environmental impact CEMEX’s operation has on Fresno neighborhoods, open spaces and streets.”

Using conventional mining techniques, CEMEX’s gravel reserves on the San Joaquin are running low. Now the firm wants to blast open a 600-foot crater to unlock gravel reserves, according to CEMEX documents.

CEMEX criticized over slow environmental review

CEMEX sought a four-year extension, but Supervisor Brian Pacheco criticized the company for falling behind on its latest environmental review.

Environmental review was initially expected by the summer of 2021.

“I think if you really want to hold them to the fire, we’d better give them a two-year extension,” Pacheco said. “They’re hiring the people to get this done, so they need to put a little heat on these people.”

After some debate and pushback from the CEMEX attorney, the supervisors settled on a three-year extension.

Several supervisors, including Steve Brandau, said he planned to grill the company extensively during the EIR process in the future. But Tuesday’s hearing, Brandau said, was not the right time to raise those questions.

Sharon Weaver, the executive director of the San Joaquin River Conservancy, said she felt “pleasantly surprised” by the vote.

“I think that the vote sends the right message, which is that they’re looking closely at what CEMEX is proposing,” Weaver told Fresnoland. “I feel good about the decision today. It’s better than what I expected.” 

The mine could cause a litany of environmental impacts, which CEMEX will attempt to analyze in the coming years. These include air pollution, ground instability along the San Joaquin, water quality impacts, noise and vibration from blasting, and increased truck traffic along Friant Road.

Over the last four decades, CEMEX has more than doubled its truck trips along Friant Road, from 100,000 in 1986 to 250,000 in 2023. 

The mine would provide roughly 120 jobs, according to CEMEX.

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Gregory Weaver is a staff writer for Fresnoland who covers the environment, air quality, and development.

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