WHAT ABOUT RECLAIMING OR RESTORING THIS OPEN PIT MINE?

Vulcan recently passed out a small brochure at a city council meeting, in which they claimed that if given permission to expand, they would begin restoration immediately on the existing quarry, claiming there would be results within 2 years and complete restoration and regrowth within 5 years. Their brochure showed some extremely imaginative artists impressions of how they think the existing method of restoration (now being attempted in Fish Canyon) would look compared to their proposed method. From that, it looks like we are stuck with either a very ugly canyon forever, or a completely impractical promise for restoring damage to both the canyon and the new 80 acre area.

Their brochure says that the existing plan (shown above and supposedly being used in the quarry now being mined in Fish Canyon, would produce un-natural step-like ridges, very resistant to vegetation. Instead their photo below promises to use contouring to create more natural landforms.

So, how likely is it that this promise will be kept? Lets consider the logic of what they are claiming and look at the track record Vulcan already has right here in Azusa.

First, a little background: On a relatively level surface, a strip mining operation scrapes off all the topsoil, then removes the material that is being mined. When all the desired minerals have been removed, the mine is supposed to be “restored” or “reclaimed”, by replacing the topsoil back on the somewhat level surface, planting and allowing the vegetation to grow back. At one time this process was completely unknown, but now an approved plan for it is required on open pit mines before any government permits are granted.

But what happens when the mine is not on a level surface, but an almost vertical cut which has been made into the side of a mountain? Can you imagine trying to put dirt onto the side of a smooth wall? How much do you suppose would stick? Almost nothing. How could anything grow there?

Azusa Rock Quarry

When the natural processes which formed these mountains restore a sheer rock cliff, it takes thousands and thousands of years. Small plants get a toehold in a crack here and there. They give tiny surfaces for bits of soil and dust to adhere to, which allow slightly larger plants to grow. Water runs off such a steep slope, so very little of it nourishes the plants. It takes an incredibly long time for this process to even begin softening the rock into extremely thin and fragile soil. After centuries of this rock decomposing, there is finally enough soil to support weeds, small bushes, or cactus. Only then does the side of a steep mountain look somewhat like the front face of the San Gabriels we now see. Plants on these dry, south-facing slopes barely survive even today.

Look at the photo below – the existing quarry walls. Way, way steeper than 2 to 1! (actually about 1 to 1) So Vulcan proposed a method for the canyon walls called “Mayan Steps”, named after the huge stepped ledges on Mayan pyramids in Central America. Some soil may stick to the top of those steps which you can see today on the east side of the canyon entrance, but guess what? Any soil and vegetation applied there will not cover the steeply cut surfaces between those flats. We will see only the bare vertical rock between the steps, like what is visible right now in this photograph of the Fish Canyon Quarry entrance:

So, what would happen with any attempt at restoring the vertical cuts now on the sides of Fish Canyon? Do you think it is even possible?. “Green Blackmail” is what a local city mayor used to describe what Vulcan is using by offering to clean up the existing quarry only after they are given permission to start the new desecration. That could be a very empty promise.

The promise looks empty because they have already failed. Vulcan has even admitted in a January 26, 2005 annual report they are required to submit to the Azusa Planning Commission that their revegetation effort was unsuccessful. They needed an irrigation system to even keep the plants alive, and still could not recreate the climate needed for native plants. According to the report:

Condition (Requirement) Comments
Revegetation of each portion of the subject property shall be commenced upon completion of the phase of the quarrying operations for that portion of the property. Revegetation has been attempted as the adopted plan requires. However, the quality of the revegetation plan proved insufficient to achieve the objective. Revegetation of a portion of the east side while using a native seed mix also used non-native trees. An irrigation system was necessary to keep the non-native viable.

Source: Annual Review (Calendar Year 2004) of Azusa Rock Quarry, January 26, 2005.

They have even failed to get approval on the reclamation plan before they began mining, as the state regulations require. If you request a copy of their plan from the state, you will receive one that is marked “Conceptual”, not Final , and is not stamped Approved. They were required to have that done before even starting the present mining pit in the canyon!

There will probably be no restoration or reclamation on either area unless we wait for centuries. Even our great, great, great grandchildren are not likely to see it restored to its original condition.

A number of contractors and engineers (including one who has many years of experience working with the Sierra Club and has seen a lot of environmental and reclamation work) have examined the Vulcan brochure and voiced their opinion that the Vulcan claims for restoring this open pit are just not logical or believable.

Vulcan’s quarry also destroyed a part of the creek in Fish Canyon. Their brochure showed a photo of that portion of the creek which they claim to have restored in 2003:

Fish Creek “Restored”

Fish Creek Natural

But look at the second photo above which shows an undisturbed part of the creek a short distance upstream from the quarry, and decide if their “restoration” is anywhere near the original.

Fish Creek “Restored”
Fish Creek Natural