Letter to the Editor: Why I am opposing the mine expansion

Editor’s note: This Is the first of a three-part series by Portola resident Valari Simison, whose residence is 60 feet south and 200 feet west of the mine property under consideration for expansion. 

Plumas County is considering the feasibility of extending a North Portola mining permit from a small 10-acre sand/aggregate operation to a 256-acre sand/aggregate pit mine which includes an asphalt plant, a lime plant, a rock crushing plant, an on-site diesel storage for 10,000 gallons of fuel and 55 gallon-drums of hydraulic and transmission fluids as well as a large sediment pond (450’) for particulates and potential toxins.

This new industrial complex created by TLT Enterprises/Hat Creek Construction (HCC) will be placed in a residential neighborhood. A residential neighborhood zoned by Plumas County to be a residential neighborhood. Such a plan is preposterous on several levels encompassing water supply and contamination, air quality, noise pollution, light pollution, air and ground vibrations, erosion with potential flooding, fire danger, and community safety. After reviewing the HCC mine permit application, here are a ‘few” concerns that come to the forefront.

WATER
1. Aquifer Depletion — At least one major aquifer running underground through the HCC property supplies water to at least 57+ residential wells along the property line boundaries. HCC has drilled 20 plus test holes above the property borders at an elevation higher than the existing residents. The test holes encountered water at 30 to 130 feet. If HCC digs into these hillsides to mine sand and aggregate, this aquifer will be further exposed. Along with the potential of draining the aquifer, the aquifer will continue to boil to the surface losing more precious water. Each of these responses to the aquifer’s breach will result in depleted water supplies for nearby residents. Plumas County allowed homes to be built in these bordering areas using wells to supply water. They have no provisions to otherwise provide water to these residents. The City of Portola has no provision to supply the necessary water. This is an intolerable situation.

2. Water Usage Conflicts — HCC’s mine permit application states that the mine will use 50,000 gallons of water daily for mining purposes. According to the United States Geological Survey in the Department of the Interior, the average household uses about 300 gallons of water daily allowing 80 to 100 gallons per person. The proposed mine demand for water consumption is the equivalent of over 170 homes. Again, a totally unrealistic scenario.

3. Water ContaminationPutting an industrial complex in a residential neighborhood will not only affect water levels, it will also affect water quality and safety. Mining sand/aggregate along with asphalt production, lime production, and blasting will bring a multitude of pollutants and toxins to our local ground water.

a.)Ground Water—Given the nature of sand/aggregate mining along with accompanying asphalt batch plant and lime plant, there will be considerable exposure to high-VOC (volatile organic compounds) through the extensive use of petroleum products as well as exposure to possible toxic metals, chemicals, and later herbicides. These pollutants and toxins pose considerable health risks to residential wells.

b.) Surface Water—Run-off will carry these same pollutants and toxins into springs, creeks, and wetlands changing water temperature, turbidity, and acidity. These changes will affect vegetation and wildlife in local riparian zones as water flows downstream.

c.) Process Water—Spent waters from classification, washing, and sorting will go into the 450’ sediment pond creating “sludge.” This effluent water according to the Mine Application will be piped to Grizzly Creek. If this suggestion was even possible, as it requires crossing private land, it would be a disaster to Grizzly Creek watershed. Grizzly Creek immediately empties into the Feather River. The Feather River is classified as a “Wild & Scenic River” protected by the United States Forest Service. Leakage from this sediment pond and incidental water used for washing and cooling equipment along with dust control will also contribute to pollution and toxin dispersal to the existing water system.

AIR QUALITY
This industrial mining complex is a threat to the very air local residents breathe. Goodbyeclean spring, summer, and fall clean air. As a “non-attainment” area already dealing with poor quality air during the winter from wood stove smoke, this mining operation through excavation and processing can be up to 150 times worse than wood stoves with its particulate circulation and industrial fumes according to the EPA.

Excavation Particulate—Removing and crushing granite creates crystalline silica dust and mica dust.

Crystalline silica dust in the form of quartz is carcinogenic to humans causing silicosis and pulmonary fibrosis. These are not curable diseases. Special cleaning techniques must be used in households exposed to silica dust to safely remove it and prevent inhalation by residents

Repeated exposure to mica dust can lead to lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis. Mica dust can stay in the air for up to 12 days. Even when one cannot feel it, it can be smelled as a “concrete” odor.

Processing Particulate
1.Asphalt Plant
The EPA and OSHA agree that the processing of asphalt can lead to serious health issues. According to OSHA, asphalt fumes cause headaches, severe skin rashes, fatigue, reduced appetite, throat and eye irritation, and coughing. Continual exposure leads to lung, stomach, and skin cancer.

Asphalt plants release millions of pounds of chemicals into the air during production. The EPA lists these cancer-causing hazardous air pollutants as arsenic, formaldehyde, benzene, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, toluene, and cadmium. Other toxins are released into the air as asphalt is moved along on conveyor belts, loaded into trucks, and hauled to construction sites. Some other health risks listed from these air pollutants include wheezing or shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea. Along with the possibility of liver damage, central nervous system disorders, and respiratory problems, birth defects and harm to the immune system are concerns.

People living near asphalt plants are exposed to cancer-causing substances that can cause long-term damage even if the asphalt plant meets all air pollution standards. This is based on the principle of “acceptable risk.”

These are NOT ACCEPTABLE RISKS!

2. Lime Plant
The Material Safety Data Sheet from OSHA describes Lime Kiln Dust (LKD) ranging from odorless to a slightly, earthy odor. It is generally a white or grayish-white powder. Contact can cause irritation to eyes, skin, respiratory system,and gastrointestinal tract. LKD can react vigorously with water, releasing heat which may ignite combustible materials in specific instances.

Contact with LKD can cause:

–severe irritation or burning of eyes, including permanent damage,

— severe irritation or burning of skin, especially in the presence of moisture,

— severe irritation or burning of gastrointestinal tract if swallowed, and

— severe irritation of the respiratory system. Long-term exposure may cause permanent damage.

While LKD is not listed by MSHA, OSHA, or IARC as a carcinogen yet, it may contain trace amounts of crystalline silica in the form of quartz or cristobalite. Crystalline silica has been classified by IARC as a Group I carcinogen to humans when inhaled. Inhalation of silica can also cause a chronic lung disorder, silicosis.

This material is alkaline. If released into water or moist soil it will cause an increase in the pH values. This change will affect the quality of our water as a groundwater and surface water contaminant.

3. Smoke—As HCC needs to clear the area to excavate their material, it will be necessary to remove trees, brush, and other foliage. How will that vegetation “waste” be disposed of? Burning seems like a realistic possibility. If that is the case, smoke will be a definite issue. After spending an entire summer shrouded in smoke, this is totally unacceptable. The permit does not address what their plans are for this issue.

4. Current Local Air Patterns—Stagnant air and local weather patterns often increase the level of pollutant exposure to local community areas. The air movement in the Portola area tends to be easterly. However depending on the season of the year and the time of day, these patterns can vary. Here in North Portola, it is not unusual to experience heavy smoke from “green” burning in the morning hours. Does this easterly air pattern carry the pollutants and contaminants to Grizzly Creek corridor? Air travels. What intensity of the aforementioned disease -carrying contaminants does it take to sicken our population? Exposing our health to this undesirable situation is unconscionable.

Valari Simison

Portola

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