In an effort to minimize impacts on wildlife and tribal resources, as well as to satisfy critics of the proposed Sargent Mine in southern Santa Clara County, the project’s applicant recently offered to scale back their original plans for the property.
However, some of those critics—including representatives of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band—say the offer doesn’t go far enough, and would still disrupt a crucial wildlife crossing and the tribe’s ancestral home, known as Juristac.
Howard Justus, Managing Member of Sargent Ranch Partners, told the Santa Clara County Planning Commission last week that his firm is willing to move forward with an alternative project identified in the Sargent Mine draft Environmental Impact Report that would reduce commercial sand mining operations by about 28 percent. Known as “Alternative 3,” this project is considered the “environmentally superior alternative” in the draft EIR.
Alternative 3 would eliminate two of four originally proposed pit mine sites (phases 3 and 4) on the 403-acre site, which is located about four miles south of Gilroy and one mile south of the Highways 101 and 25 interchange. It would also reduce mining on phases 1 and 2, and move a 14-acre processing plant about one mile north of its original proposed location within the project site.
Justus called Alternative 3 a “win-win-win solution” because it would help satisfy the region’s growing commercial needs for sand, which is a key ingredient for concrete; reduces the potential blockage of a wildlife corridor that is crucial to the genetic diversity of area mountain lions; and has less of an impact on the Juristac Tribal Cultural Landscape (JTCL).
“At the end of the day, there’s 5,000 acres, and the quarry is going to use 7-8% of that land,” Justus said. “We see this as a bridging of historical needs with future opportunities. None of us will get everything we ask for, but we should all be pretty happy. We think there are numerous constituencies that get satisfied through this proposal.”
The draft EIR notes that Alternative 3 would “avoid and/or reduce most significant impacts” of the original Sargent Mine proposal. However, it would still result in “significant and unavoidable” impacts on “the significance of the JTCL” and on tribal cultural resources.
Representatives of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band say that Alternative 3 doesn’t go far enough in preserving Juristac. The tribe has actively spoken out against the Sargent Mine project since it was in its early planning stages.
Amah Mutsun spokesperson Valentin Lopez noted that the draft EIR says Alternative 3 would still negatively impact the Amah Mutsun ancestral lands, and even disturb tribal sites that were not identified as impacted in the original mine proposal.
“Alternative 3 would still drive a stake through the heart of the sacred hills of Juristac by excavating a giant open pit mine and building an industrial complex in this highly sensitive location,” Lopez said.
Environmental advocates who have also opposed the Sargent Mine project agree that Alternative 3 isn’t satisfactory. Alice Kaufman, Policy and Advocacy Director for Green Foothills, said the alternative “would still destroy the sacred (JTCL), block the wildlife movement corridor and significantly impact air quality, transportation and the scenic views of the hillsides.”
Members of the public have until Sept. 26 to comment on the draft EIR. After that, planners will compile a final EIR that will also require county approval before the project can gain a permit.