County, mine face off with state




Without a required reclamation plan, state officials say, Blue Mountain Minerals is violating state law.

Last week, the state issued an order for the Columbia mining company to submit the plan by Friday, Nov. 28. If Blue Mountain does not comply, it could face $5,000 daily fines or be shut down completely.

The state could also end up overseeing the open-pit limestone quarry, negating the county's authority to enforce laws on the site.

In a letter dated Nov. 10 to Tuolumne County Senior Planner Larry Beil, state Department of Conservation officials said Blue Mountain Minerals lacks an approved reclamation plan to detail how it will maintain water and air quality while minimizing flooding, erosion and harm to animal habitat.

The plan is also supposed to discuss topsoil replacement and revegetation when mining activity is finished. The plan must be approved by the county to be valid.

Blue Mountain Minerals merged with Columbia Quarry in 1996, and each company had a reclamation plan for its site. But when the two started operating as one owned by Portola Minerals Company, Inc. the state demanded a revised plan detailing how the sites would work together.

That plan was due Nov. 15, 2002, but has yet to be submitted.

Blue Mountain Minerals representatives blame two parties for the problem Tuolumne County and Priscilla Koponen, an angry neighbor who is suing the company for issues related to mining waste on a meadow near her Marble Quarry Road house.

The mining company has been working on a plan, but company officials said resolving issues with the county has taken longer than they expected.

"We're helpless. We can't move it faster. We're not in the driver's seat," said Ted Stevens, attorney for Blue Mountain Minerals. The company is working with the county now to fix differences and complete an environmental impact report. Issues of how much Blue Mountain can mine must go before the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, and out for public comment before the plan is submitted to the state. People will be able to comment on the environmental impact report before the reclamation plan is finished.

The Union Democrat
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