By Logan Hall
Larry Mosler’s rock quarry north of Ojai may have been dealt a fatal blow this month as county and Mosler representatives are gearing up for a public hearing on Nov. 17 regarding his mining operation. Decisions made during the hearing could potentially shut down the mine, located up Maricopa Highway, if county officials implement their staff’s recommendations.
According to Brian Baca, the county’s manager of commercial and industrial permits, Mosler has had many chances to fix problems that the county and the California State Mining and Geology Board mandated that Mosler fix in order to continue to run the mine.
“You have to have three things to operate a mine in California,” said Baca, who is also a certified engineering geologist. “You need a permit issued by the lead agency, which is the county in this case. You also have to have an approved reclamation plan, and financial assurance that a reclamation plan could be implemented. Mosler has none of those things.”
Baca says that Mosler and his attorney have refused to post financial assurance. Reclamation plans detail the way a mine owner will restore a mining site and are provided by the owner and are approved by governing agencies. A certain amount of money must be set aside to cover the reclamation in the event that a miner decides to shut down his business and leave the area.
“Financial assurance is required to keep the taxpayers safe,” said Baca. “If Mosler decided to leave town tomorrow, we would need the money he has set aside in order to reclaim the land. Mosler and his attorney have refused to post financial assurance mandated by the State Mining and Reclamation act.”
Mosler’s attorney, Derek Cole, claims the county is being unreasonable and is asking Mosler to set aside too much money.
The county has stipulated that Mosler’s mine will require 285,000 cubic yards of fill material to restore the site, in the event that the mine is closed, said Baca. In order to financially cover a potential reclamation process, the fill material would need to be included in the cost of a financial assurance. Cole says this creates a major issue for Mosler.
“The county is saying that Mosler will have to account for the fill material,” said Cole. “Mosler has to come up with $3 million to put into an irrevocable account. That’s not the kind of money that a small miner has lying around. If successful, what county staff is trying to do will bankrupt the Moslers. If the miner goes bankrupt, then they can’t pay for the reclamation. That’s the reality of it.”
Cole says that he has submitted a proposal from Mosler that will address the county’s concerns without the potential need to truck in 285,000 cubic yards of material mandated by the state and county, should the mine be closed. Cole and Mosler’s proposal outlines how the grooming of the upper portion of the mined area and a plan to vegetate the entire site will improve stability of the site to a safe level.
Mosler hired geological firm Advanced Geotechnical Services to put his proposal together. AGS reports that Mosler’s proposal would greatly improve the safety of the mine. “… if the recommendations presented are integrated into the financial assurance cost estimate restoration plan, the safety factor of the quarry will be improved.”
Baca, however, says that the proposal doesn’t cut it when it comes to the state’s reclamation requirements. “What Mosler’s attorney has proposed doesn’t address the reclamation plan,” he said.
The entire issue is set to be reviewed by the county’s Planning Commission Nov. 17, which will then make a decision to be approved by the county Board of Supervisors. “Any decision made requires a final action by the Board of Supervisors,” said Baca. He also said that Mosler would have the opportunity to appeal to the board if the Planning Commission decides to revoke Mosler’s permit. Mosler would be required to cease operations if the Board of Supervisors decides to revoke the permit.
In a Ventura County Star report, Mosler placed the blame on County Supervisor Steve Bennett, saying that the local Stop the Trucks! Coalition is pressuring Bennett, who is in turn pressuring the Planning Commission.
Bennett is quick to point out that he has no personal opinion on the matter. “I can’t express an opinion or take a position publicly and still represent the citizens,” said Bennett. “If I want to be there to represent the citizens of Ojai when the decision comes to the board, I can’t express any opinion about the Mosler mine at this time.”
Baca says that despite the issue’s complexity, the bottom line is simple. “If a mine can’t operate in accordance with the law,” he said, “the mine can’t operate.”
The Nov. 17 planning meeting is slated for 8:30 a.m. at the Ventura County Government Center, on the first floor of the Hall of Administration building.