County backs mine request

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

Blue Mountain Minerals can expand the area where it disposes of quarried rock and soil at its Columbia-area mine, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

The board upheld a previous decision to add 27 acres to the fill zone on the mining company's almost 350-acre quarry near the New Melones Reservoir.

The decision rejected an appeal by the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center to a December decision by the Tuolumne County Planning Commission to grant the request.

Blue Mountain Minerals was asking the county to change the terms of its permit for the mine by expanding the area. Representatives and supporters of the company said the move was necessary to maintain profitability, as the company would otherwise have to cover up mineable material and areas.

However, the trees on those 27 acres will be lost with the expansion. And while the company plans to replace those trees eventually, CSERC and the Central Sierra Audubon Society say Blue Mountain Minerals should be required to carry out a more extensive environmental impact report before moving forward.

Such a report, also known as an EIR, would require the company to identify multiple alternatives and prove the proposal was the ideal route. An EIR is mandatory by state law if a project has a significant impact on the environment.

Supporters and employees filled the supervisors chambers to back the proposal, many of them wearing shirts or hats with the company's name or stickers that stated their support for Blue Mountain Minerals.

Many of the speakers pointed to the company as a positive local presence, providing jobs and funding public services.

But many of the supporters, including supervisors, turned the focus of the hearing away from the project and toward local environmental groups.

For the full story see today's Union Democrat.

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