By Chip Ashley
On Aug. 28, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors did not reverse the Planning Commission’s denial of Cemex’s application to mine Jesse Morrow Mountain. So is this fight to save the mountain the Choinumni call Wa-ha-lish really over?
Many are skeptical. It is hard to believe Cemex will walk away from its more than $2 million investment.
But some facts are clear. After Supervisor Judy Case’s recusal because of her husband’s involvement with a Cemex competitor, the Board of Supervisors voted 2-2 to overturn the Planning Commission’s denial of Cemex’s application. A tie vote was not sufficient to overturn the Planning Commission’s denial.
But the vote did not end the hearing. There was further discussion, which reportedly ended with Supervisor Debbie Poochigian saying she was leaning toward joining Supervisors Susan Anderson and Henry Perea in voting “no” on the motion to overturn. But another vote never took place, leaving observers in suspense.
Following up, I e-mailed Poochigian, copying Chief Administrative Officer John Navarrette and County Counsel Kevin Briggs, asking for clarification on the hearing’s outcome. Two days later, I received a phone call from a Planning Department representative who explained that the Planning Commission’s denial had been upheld and that Cemex would have to reapply to pursue its interest in mining Jesse Morrow Mountain. This would require a new environmental impact report (that could use information from the existing one). When asked for a documentary declaration upholding the denial, the official directed me to the hearing minutes.
The minutes of the Aug. 28 hearing were finally posted on the Fresno County Web site on Sept. 14.
The minutes indicate that Chair Poochigian moved to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). Supervisor Phil Larson seconded the motion, but it “failed for lack of affirmative votes” (as noted above). The minutes also intimate a great deal of doubt among the supervisors. Before Poochigian’s motion received a second, Larson moved twice to certify the FEIR. He withdrew the first motion. His second try failed for lack of a second.
The vote would seem to put a final period on Cemex’s attempt to mine the picturesque mountain. But the multinational corporation can reapply and start the process anew. In January, Anderson steps down to be replaced by Andreas Borgeas (presently on the Fresno City Council), who many believe would support a new application from Cemex.
Cemex has applied for a “re-hearing.” According to representatives of the planning commission, a re-hearing without a new application and a new environmental impact report is unprecedented. Stay tuned.
Correction: The two photos in the article about Jesse Morrow Mountain on page 4 of the October Community Alliance newspaper were taken by Richard Iyall.
Chip Ashley is a local environmental activist and member of the Tehipite Chapter of the Sierra Club. Contact him at 559-855-6376 or email@example.com.