Expansion Of Mitsubishi Quarry Now Subject To Public Environmental Review

The Misubishi Corporation’s effort to secure a 120-year-long permit to mine high-grade limestone in the San Bernardino National Forest from a proposed 128-acre quarry has progressed to the point where there is now environmental documentation available for review and public input. The proposed project has long presented a classic clash between environmental, corporate and community economic concerns. Mistsubishi is asking for what county officials processing the application appear to be disposed to grant: a construction and operational permit for the quarry and an accompanying 1.8 mile road to be located “almost entirely” on public land in Cushenbury Canyon on the north slope of the San Bernardino National Forest, six miles south of the community of Lucerne Valley and west of Highway 18.
Misubishi previously readied an application for the project, which it considers to be an expansion of a long-existing quarry operation. The matter had been on hold since 2013, but it is now preparing to proceed.
Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser originally developed the original Cushenbury limestone quarry to supply his steel making operations in Fontana during
World War II. He built a cement plant nearby in 1957. The facility was modernized in 1982 and Mitsubishi Cement Corporation purchased the plant in 1988.
Mitsubishi is proposing to develop a new high grade limestone quarry, what is referred to as the south quarry, to the south of its existing east pit, which has been a source of high grade limestone since the 1950s but which is nearly depleted of ore. The south quarry is near Mitsubishi’s west pit, which is under development and within a short distance from the Cushenbury cement plant as well. The west pit, however, yields relatively low-grade limestone that must be blended with higher grade limestone to make viable cement.
Plans for the project have been submitted to the U.S. Forest Service and are being processed by San Bernardino County’s Land Use Services Department.
The Forest Service and San Bernardino County are seeking public comment on federal and state environmental documents related to the proposal. The public can examine the documents, which provide a description of the project and the mitigation measures envisioned for it at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=36511 and submit comments. The comment period ends February 1.
Mitsubishi Cement has mining claims which extend into 440 acres of the San Bernardino National Forest. The company’s rights to operate are not absolute, however, and are subject to the discretion of the federal government as well as local planning authority, in the form of the planning division of the county’s land use services division, the county planning commission and ultimately, in the event of an appeal of the planning commission’s decision, the board of supervisors.
Mitsubishi has cultivated political goodwill at the county level, having made hefty contributions to the electioneering funds of local politicians, in particular former First District supervisors Bill Postmus and Brad Mitzelfelt. The company appears to be cruising toward a relatively routine approval of the new quarry proposal with the current county political leadership.
“Mitsubishi Cement has been a great asset to Lucerne Valley and the County of San Bernardino, offering much needed jobs and economic growth,” said San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos. “As the process for the adoption of the Mitsubishi Cement Corp. South Quarry project moves forward, I look forward to hearing the input from the public and reviewing the findings to make an informed decision once this comes before the board of supervisors.”
Proponents of the project emphasize that the cement plant and quarry operations employ about 130 and that the cement production operation represents a key cog in the Southern California and Southern Nevada construction industry, having supplied the cement for the Ontario Airport expansion, the new Hoover Dam bridge, the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, the Ritz Carlton Hotel Resort; McCarran International Airport, Wynn Hotel & Casino and the MGM Grand Hotel.
Environmentalists, however, see the prospect of the industrialization of the national forest as undesirable in any event and the granting of a 120-year operating permit as both unreasonable and too open-ended.
Bighorn sheep, which have seen radical reductions in their numbers, will be threatened by the project, project opponents maintain. A colony of the sheep migrates through the area on a regular basis. The project likewise presents the risk of causing a diminution of the nesting habitat for the golden eagle. The project will also eradicate plants that are rare or non-existent outside of the north slope of the San Bernardino Mountains, including Parish’s daisy (erigeron parishii); Cushenbury buckwheat (eriogonum ovalifolium; Cushenbury oxytheca (oxytheca parishii); yucca shidigera; yucca brevifolia; yucca whipplei; beavertail cactus (opuntia basilaris); hedgehog cactus (echinocereus engelmannii); and Mojave mound cactus (E. triglochidiatus).
The Center For Biogoical Diversity is encouraging those who have a concern about the ecological impact of the quarry project to register their input.

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