By Chip Ashley
Several stories in the Fresno Bee and online have concluded that Cemex is giving up on its plans for an aggregate mine on Jesse Morrow Mountain, known as Wa-ha-lish to the Choinumni Tribe.
During a special Board of Supervisors hearing held on Dec. 13, the supervisors met with representatives of Cemex and Friends of Jesse Morrow Mountain and struck an agreement that seems to put an end to Cemex’s efforts.
Under the agreement, Cemex would enter into a covenant that would prevent the picturesque foothill called by many the gateway to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks from ever being mined. This covenant would be held jointly by Fresno County and a yet to be determined third party—likely a land trust of some sort. The names Sierra Foothill Conservancy and El Rio Reyes Conservation Trust came up in conversation, but there is no indication yet whether either organization is interested. And the window will close in only a few days.
According to my understanding of the agreement, both holders would have to agree to dissolve the settlement.
However, questions remain. Cemex must file the covenant by Jan. 4, 2013, in order to get a rehearing on the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Which raises the question, “If they are not going to mine the mountain, why do they need the EIR to be certified?”
After all, the EIR is specific to a particular project in a particular location and therefore cannot be transferred to another project in another location, right? This would seem logical, but I am not aware of all the nuances of the California Environmental Quality Act on this question.
Cemex has said that a certified EIR would carry value in a sale of the property to another entity. Cemex also says it is involved in sensitive discussions with other entities that by inference seem to value a certified EIR. But Cemex will not disclose the nature of these discussions.
To many, the agreement is too narrow. It is insufficient for Cemex to agree only not to mine Wa-ha-lish. Indeed, why not agree to have the mountain set aside forever in a conservation easement?
What will happen if a third party covenant holder is not found? Will control of the covenant revert to the county?
The covenant refers only to Cemex’s existing property on Jesse Morrow Mountain. Cemex seems free to negotiate to purchase other properties on the mountain and mine them, pending a successful application process.
Such were the questions and uncertainties swirling around the chamber as perplexed citizens speculated on the possibilities.
Chip Ashley is a local environmental activist and member of the Tehipite Chapter of the Sierra Club. Contact him at 559-855-6376 or firstname.lastname@example.org.