After months of speculation, the State Mining and Geology Board decided Thursday that the city of Lake Elsinore should be allowed to maintain oversight of local mining operations.
During its regularly scheduled business meeting at the , the Board was unanimous in its vote to allow the city to retain its “lead agency status” -- unencumbered by SMGB oversight -- of mining activities within city boundaries.
In making the motion to allow Lake Elsinore to keep its status as lead agency, Board Chair Brian Baca said further action by the SMGB was not required because the city had made good faith efforts to implement the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA) and had corrected deficiencies as required by law.
John Lane was the only SMGB member to push for an extension of the status quo, which began last May when the state stepped in to monitor Lake Elsinore’s status as lead agency over local mining. At that time,
As the lead agency, Lake Elsinore reviews applications for mining permits, reclamation plans, and amendments; submits reclamation plans and financial assurances to the State; reviews financial assurances from the mines; annually inspects mining operations for compliance; and takes enforcement actions against mine operators when necessary. In Lake Elsinore, the majority of mining interests are owned by Pacific Clay Products, a subsidiary of the conglomerate Castle & Cooke.
The city has pushed to keep its control over local mining. During Thursday’s meeting, elected city officials, city staff, outside legal counsel, mine operators, and some residents addressed the Board in support of Lake Elsinore’s efforts to improve its understanding and implementation of SMARA.
“Over the last six months, I believe the city has provided oversight and has corrected deficiencies,” said Lake Elsinore Mayor Brian Tisdale.
City Manager Bob Brady admitted the process has been an education for him. Lake Elsinore Director of Public Works Ken Seumalo -- who has taken the lead on mining issues for the city -- also conceded he has come a long way in his understanding of SMARA. Both officials said they have utilized the Board’s expertise, as well as the expert opinion of officials with the Office Of Mine Reclamation, and the city’s outside mining consultants from EnviroMine, during what has been a tumultuous past eight months.
For example, Lane questioned whether the city erred in recommending to the Lake Elsinore Planning Commission last fall that Lane also probed whether the city properly notified the community about any vested mining
Lake Elsinore City Attorney Barbara Leibold argued there is a vested right to mine the Alberhill Southwest Shale Mine site and she said the public was
Several people in attendance at Thursday’s meeting spoke against allowing the city to maintain lead agency status without any state oversight.
“They don’t understand SMARA,” said Lake Elsinore resident Paulie Tehrani. “Lake Elsinore is not taking its lead agency status seriously.”
Colin Kelly of the non-profit Inland Empire Waterkeeper urged a six-month probationary period in which the state would continue to watch over the city to ensure it oversees mining according to law. He said local mine operators have a long history of polluting and cited the recent actions of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board,
“This is very serious,” he said.