A decision on a new reclamation plan for a deep mining operation west of the Solvang city limits has been postponed to July 27 by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission so that Buellflat Rock Co. From modifying the project description to address potential impacts from daily truck trips.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to continue the hearing Wednesday, in their first in-person meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, after hearing presentations from staff, the applicant and members of the public.
Additional truck trips were a concern not only for the public but also for commissioners, although a company spokesperson said no more trucks were likely to enter and leave the mine at the intersection of Highway 246 with Skytt Mesa Drive.
“We expect traffic to decrease,” said Buellflat representative, John Hecht of Sespe Consulting, noting that the company no longer needs to import rock, gravel and sand to meet local demands for these materials to be used in concrete, asphalt and similar products.
But Hecht said the company is willing to set a cap on 50 truck trips per day and eliminate the possibility of an additional 20 trips as shown in the app.
Residents of a mobile home park to the east, within the city limits of Solvang, complained about the earlier start of work, the noise from the truck and the dust from the mining operation that blew up the river channel.
Hecht assured the committee that operating hours would be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and noted that both Mission Ready Mix Concrete and CalPortland have operations between the drilling site and the motorhome park that can produce noise and dust.
Diluted passive environmental advertising also requires that bulk materials be diluted daily or capped to prevent them from blowing away.
But Commissioner John Park, whose third district includes the project site, wanted the complaints addressed.
“I’d like to see a landscaping buffer plan to mitigate dust, noise, and visual impact,” Park said.
The actual mining process is not part of the application under consideration, which is a request to change parts of the existing reclamation plan.
Staff of the Planning and Development Department noted that Buellflat had a vested right to conduct a deep mining operation, so the commission had no authority in this aspect.
But because the committee has to agree to the environmental assessment, which must consider the cumulative effects of the entire process, the line between the conditions the committee can and can’t enforce has been blurred.
“I’m not worried about [daily truck] Trips,” said District 5 Commissioner Vincent Martinez. “These have to go down because it will be locally produced.”
But he added, “I feel like we have to get away from [mining] proces. I feel like dust [issue] is getting into it. “
The current reclamation plan calls for backfilling the excavations mostly with non-marketable material that was excavated and stored on site, then returning the land to oak forests and riverine areas.
Buellflat Rock wants to change that condition to return the site to pasture land grown with legumes to graze cattle and horses.
Hecht said the company feels this would be “more compatible with surrounding farming.”
Buellflat has mined rock, gravel, and sand from the Santa Ynez River Channel and adjacent upland areas since the 1930s, although it is no longer excavating the river bed, according to a task force report.
Since the early 2000s, the company has mined a roughly 45-acre site north of the river to a depth of 30 feet—essentially the groundwater level—and now plans to drill another 30 feet.
“Deep mining is 1,000 feet long, so this is not deep mining,” Hecht said. This is a lot like ‘deeper mining’. “
The experts’ report stated that deeper excavations would extend the mine’s life by 20 years.
Any decision the committee makes in July will be conceptual because the plan must be submitted to the California Department of Conservation’s Department of Mine Reclamation for approval, and then it will go back to the committee for the final decision.