A state regulatory panel on Thursday identified holes in one of Fresno County's biggest mining proposals in years and sent plans for the 886-acre rock quarry near Reedley back for revisions.
The plans don't include enough information on how the quarry, known as the Carmelita mine, will be cleaned up after an anticipated 100 years of operations, the State Mining and Geology Board decided.
The plans now return to the county, which approved the mine in October but will have to gather new information and again decide whether the plans are sufficient for the project to proceed.
(To read more about the mine, go to Carmelita.)
County planners did not return phone calls Thursday. But the family behind the quarry proposal described the state's action as a mere procedural bump.
"The project is still moving forward," said Mike Mallery, who spoke on behalf of the Gerawan family. "This is just creating a minor delay."
The Gerawan family, which runs one of the world's largest tree fruit companies, had hoped to get started on construction of its mine this summer. Mallery did not know how far behind the state's decision would set the project.
The mine is expected to fill a need in the Fresno area for sand and gravel to build homes, road and perhaps a high-speed train route. But the proposal has been criticized for its potential to bring traffic, water and air problems near the site -- off Highway 180 near the Kings River.
Opponents of the mine said the state's decision opened up a new front to fight the project.
Friends of the Kings River, whose appeal of the mine prompted Thursday's action, had argued that the project's reclamation plan was incomplete. Once the county completes the plan, as the regulators are requiring, the group will reassess the proposed reclamation and decide whether it should be challenged.
"If we're going to look at the merits of the reclamation plan, I'd like to do it on the final version," said Marsha Burch, the group's attorney.
The proposed reclamation calls for leaving the site with as many as 646 acres of mined pits that will fill with water.
The State Mining and Geology Board determined that the reclamation proposal didn't sufficiently cover issues such as drainage and runoff.
"The board really had no choice, in fairness to all parties, but to send it back to the county to finish the job it started," said Stephen Testa, executive officer of the state board.
The county Board of Supervisors, which makes decisions about mining projects, could add the required information to the plan and again approve it, according to Testa. Or the supervisors could add the information and, in light of the new data, spell out new requirements for the project.
The project's permit -- as opposed to the reclamation plan -- remains valid.
The mine also faces a court challenge from Friends of the Kings River. The case is pending.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6679, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @KurtisInValley on Twitter.