A unanimous vote from the Siskiyou County Planning Commission may be the conclusion to a long-standing Mount Shasta-area issue as the commission voted to uphold an Order to Comply issued to mine owner Keith Darrah, operator of the Truck Village quarry.
The meeting, held at the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors chambers in the county courthouse Wednesday morning, featured a reading of the proposed findings of the planning commission and a vote to affirm county Planning Director Terry Barber’s Order to Comply, requiring Darrah to cease all mining, including extraction and processing of materials, on two parcels of his property until provided with an approved use permit.
The order also requires Darrah to acquire a reclamation plan for unauthorized mining areas and a financial assurance cost estimate, which acts as an owner-supplied funding source for the reclamation of mined lands.
A number of allegations had been contested in the past, and after meetings on May 17 and 18 and Wednesday’s meeting, the commission voted in favor of the county, making findings that Darrah had conducted mining activities outside of the boundaries of his use permit and reclamation plan, a reclamation plan and use permit had not been obtained for unauthorized mining activities, financial assurances associated with unauthorized mining activities had not been provided, unauthorized mining activities were not exempt from Surface Mining and Reclamation Act regulations and the unauthorized mining activities were not exempt from requiring a use permit under county code.
The Truck Village quarry is located at the base of Black Butte, alongside I-5, and Darrah has claimed throughout the process that the extracted materials from outside the permitted area have been used for ongoing construction and improvement of his site, making it exempt from SMARA?under section 2714 (b).
That claim is addressed in the closing brief filed by the county, which was prepared by the law firm Abbott and Kinderman through a contract with the county.
That brief, which can be found with other submitted documents at the planning commission site http://www.co.siskiyou.ca.us/PHS/planning/publicdocuments.aspx, details the firm’s reasoning behind denying Darrah’s exemption claim.
The firm argues in the brief that under 2714 (b) in SMARA, all exemption requirements must be met at all times for activities to be exempt. While the firm notes why it believes that Darrah failed to achieve four of the requirements, it states that the processing of material is not included in the section of the law.
“Thus, even if Mr. Darrah otherwise conformed to all of the other qualifications for an exemption contained in Public Resources Code section 2714, the exemption is lost once processing of material begins,”?the brief reads.
Darrah may also face administrative penalties of $10,000 per day if he fails to comply with the conditions set out in the order, Barber said Thursday afternoon.
These penalties would be accumulated from Wednesday, June 16, the day the order was upheld, she said.
If the Planning Department decided to calculate penalties from the original date Darrah was notified of SMARA mining violations (June 12, 2008) he would be responsible for more than $5 million.
“The process is, once the Order to Comply is upheld, (Darrah) is given certain tasks to perform and issues to address,” Barber said.
One task is that Darrah file financial assurance within 10 days, she said. The others include the filing of a use permit and a reclamation plan within 45 days.
“If he fails to do these things, SMARA authorizes the county to assess administrative penalties,” said Barber. “The seriousness of the violations will be taken into consideration and calculations will be made. If (Darrah) fails in these conditions, the penalties would go into effect.”
However, if Darrah does meet all the conditions of the order, the penalties wouldn’t be assessed, Barber added.
“It’s very important that the county is prepared to enforce the conditions of SMARA... when the county decided to maintain the program, we made a commitment that all rules would be enforced equally,” Barber said. “It’s important to follow the conditions of SMARA so we have safe mining operations in the county.”
In the brief prepared on Darrah’s behalf, the time period of non-compliance is contended, with Darrah’s attorney Darren Mercier alleging that the county prolonged the period of non-compliance artificially by not allowing due process.
The firm notes in its brief that the amount to be fined is ultimately a decision of the director of the Planning Department upon affirmation of the order by the Planning Commission.
With commissioner Blair Hart declaring a conflict of interest and recused, the commission voted unanimously to affirm the order Wednesday morning.
Siskiyou County code does allow a 10-day period for the commission’s decision to be appealed to the board of supervisors, who can vote to hear or reject the appeal.