Santa Clara County planning officials have released the draft Environmental Impact Report for a proposed 403-acre Sargent Ranch quarry project south of Gilroy.
The public comment period on the EIR began July 25 and will continue until Sept. 26, according to county staff.
Representatives of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and environmentalists have already begun to comment on the draft EIR due to the project’s potential impact on natural resources and Native American culture.
The Sargent Mine open-pit sand gravel mining operation is proposed by Sargent Ranch Partners, LLC. The proposal consists of a 298-acre mining site and a 105-acre “geotechnical setback area” to serve as a buffer from surrounding uses, according to the draft EIR.
The proposed mining site is located about four miles south of Gilroy and one mile south of the Highways 101 and 25 interchange. The property is within the largely undeveloped Sargent Ranch, which occupies about 6,200 acres in Santa Clara, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.
San Diego-based Debt Acquisition Company of America purchased the majority of the Sargent Ranch land in 2013 after previous owner Pierce’s Sargent Ranch LLC filed for bankruptcy. Freeman Associates LLC of Palo Alto, which represents Sargent Ranch Management Company, submitted the mining application in 2015 on behalf of the more than 100 owners of Sargent Ranch lands.
The Sargent Mine applicant is requesting a 30-year mining permit from Santa Clara County, according to the draft EIR. The proposed mining operations would be conducted in four phases.
The project is meant to provide sand and gravel aggregate for contractors and public agencies. The site is estimated to contain 40 million tons of sand and gravel aggregate. Extracted material would be transported off site by trucks and trains, according to the draft EIR.
The applicant is required to conduct an EIR under state and county environmental guidelines. After the public comment period for the draft document, the county and applicant will compile a Final EIR, which will ultimately require approval by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors before the mine can gain a permit.
The project requires the adoption of a Reclamation Plan and a conditional use permit, according to county staff.
The EIR offers an in-depth analysis of the proposed project’s impacts on all aspects of its surrounding environment. The project would create “significant and unavoidable impacts” in six categories, according to the draft EIR: aesthetics; air quality; biological resources; cultural and tribal cultural resources; geology, soils and paleontology; and transportation.
Members of the Amah Mutsun Tribe have opposed the Sargent Mine proposal for years because it sits on untouched land within Juristac, the tribe’s sacred ancestral home. The land was home to Mutsun ancestors who performed ceremonies there for thousands of years, according to tribe members.
“Juristac is the heart of Amah Mutsun spirituality and culture, and an open-pit sand and gravel mine would forever desecrate this sacred place,” Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, said in a July 22 press release. “This mining project represents a continuation of the destruction and domination that our Amah Mutsun people have suffered for generations. The cultural survival of our tribe is at stake.”
The tribe noted that as part of the draft EIR process, Santa Clara County commissioned an ethnographic study. A report on this study “provides a detailed review of archaeological, ethnographic and oral historical records, unequivocally documenting the immense historical, cultural and religious importance of Juristac to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.”
The ethnographic study is not available to the public because it identifies precise locations of tribal cultural resources and sites that the tribe considers sacred, according to county staff. County planners, Amah Mutsun members and the applicant have access to the study.
The tribe said such sites could be “significantly impacted” by the proposed mine.
The local environmental advocacy nonprofit Committee for Green Foothills also commented on the draft EIR in the July 22 press release. The group has also opposed the project over the years. Environmentalists have noted that the Sargent Ranch property is an important wildlife crossing, and a key linkage among nearby mountain ranges where many species live and travel.
“This project benefits a Southern California debt acquisition company at the expense of the public,” said Green Foothills Policy and Advocacy Director Alice Kaufman. “That’s why we need residents to contact county staff, Planning Commissioners and Supervisors to tell them: we don’t want a mine at Juristac. In the year 2022, why are we still considering destroying critical wildlife habitat and sacred Indigenous land for an open-pit sand mine that nobody is asking for? Local folks and environmental groups defeated development efforts at Juristac twice in the last two decades. It’s time to rally again and protect these sacred, environmentally critical lands.”
The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and other organizations are planning to host a rally in San Jose during the public comment period, to inform the public about the project and its potential impacts.
Lopez encouraged residents to oppose the Sargent Mine project. “We are asking the people of Santa Clara County to write to the county and tell them that it is totally unacceptable, and urge them to deny the proposal,” Lopez said.
Santa Clara County officials will host a public meeting at 1:30pm Aug. 25 to receive comments on the draft EIR. The meeting will take place before the county planning commission.
Written comments can be submitted by email to Santa Clara County Senior Planner Robert Salisbury at [email protected]. Comments must be submitted by 5pm Sept. 26.
Michael Moore is editor of the Morgan Hill Times.