By Logan Hall
Part 2 in a multipart series
County officials are preparing to hear Ojai Rock Quarry owner Larry Mosler’s case during a public hearing scheduled for Thursday morning. Among other issues, Mosler is refusing to submit financial assurance for a reclamation plan that he says will cost him almost $3 million.
Staff from the county’s Planning Department say they have given Mosler many chances to comply with their need for a Financial Assurance Cost Estimate — the amount of money it should take to properly reclaim the mine if it were ever abandoned. Mosler says the county is asking for an unprecedented amount of fill material to be accounted for that would fill in mined areas of the quarry if the need arose for reclamation.
Brian Baca, the county Planning Department’s commercial and industrial permit manager, says both the county and the State Mining and Geology Board’s Office of Mining Reclamation have reviewed Mosler’s approved reclamation plan, which has been in place since 1995, and have reported that a new plan addressing the need for 285,000 cubic yards of fill material be factored into his plan. Along with the amended plan, Mosler is required by county and state law to submit his F.A.C.E. and a means of facilitating that assurance through a cash deposit, bond or other approved means.
County officials say that Mosler’s claim that the fill material could cost close to $3 million are not associated with county or state reviews, and that the mine owner is responsible for providing a professional cost estimate for the plan which, in Mosler’s case, now includes 285,000 cubic yards of material. “The county has never asked for a specific dollar amount for his plan,” said Baca. “We made our own preliminary estimate which was just over 300,000 cubic yards. The state made a review and said 285,000 cubic yards of material was necessary for the plan, so we went with the state’s estimate. As far as the cost, they (Mosler) have not given an engineer’s estimate. He (Mosler) has not submitted anything to us for review.”
Dr. Sandy Figuers, a geologist with Norfleet Consulting, was hired by Mosler to prepare reports for the county on the stability of the mine. Figuers, who holds his doctorate in geology and is a registered civil engineer, disagrees with the county’s assessment that the mine needs large amounts of fill material for reclamation. “What the county is asking for is called a global buttress fill,” said Figuers who says he has 30 years experience in the field. “The state of knowledge of how to analyze a slope is much better than it was 20 years ago. Since that time advances have greatly increased. The assumption that the slope is unstable is no longer valid.”
Figuers points out a slope cut by Cal Trans to construct Maricopa Highway. “Just look at the other side of the highway where Caltrans cut almost vertical rock slopes that are 200 feet high,” he said. “Those slopes are way more vertical than anything on Larry’s mine. All you will see there are small rock falls.”
Explaining the reclamation process, Figuers commented that reclamation plans are designed to deal with large-scale failures. “In reclamation,” he continued, “we’re looking at large failures of slopes that address major safety concerns.”
Figuers says that the bottom line is that the slope is much more stable than county officials claim. “In my professional opinion,” he concluded, “a global buttress fill is not necessary.”
Mosler gave documents to the Ojai Valley News showing statements that his previous financial assurance hasn’t been more than $48,000, and county records show his previous submitted F.A.C.E. was $22,322. Mosler questions the decision to require the large quantity of material in the reclamation plan and says his attempts to provide an updated F.A.C.E. have been ignored by county staff.
“No one has ever brought up this dirt issue in the last 16 years,” said Mosler. “I’ve been submitting new F.A.C.E. plans but the county won’t accept or reject them. Rick Goacher with RGP Planning and Development Services prepared a new F.A.C.E. In it I raised the financial assurance to $48,000. That’s when Baca came up with the plan that will cost me $3 million to import dirt.”
Cost estimates for the type of fill material required by the county for Mosler’s reclamation plan are not easy to come by. Most require an analysis of distance from the source of the material to the recipient and also depends on the specific material required. Attempts by the OVN to obtain a cost for hauling 285,000 cubic yards of fill material showed that prices could range from $3 to $15 per cubic yard depending on distance and type of material used.
State Mining and Geology Board documents regarding previous reclamation plans from Mosler have addressed many issues with Mosler’s plan, including the removal of perched boulders and hydroseeding to stabilize hillsides. None of the previous documents refer to the need for fill material in the amount specified by the county and the SMGB in the latest requirement for Mosler’s reclamation plan. Baca says that prior to his involvement with the Ojai quarry, county staff mishandled Mosler’s case and that the SMGB was not aware of the area that needed fill material. “This all came from the past year’s inspection,” said Baca. “His original plan (in 1995) shows a large fill area and he has mined extensively beyond that since then. It’s quite simple really. This is what is specifically required for his facility.”
Mosler is quick to point out that his mine is small, and out of 12 mines in Ventura County, his financial assurance is second only to one of the county’s largest mines, P.W. Gillibrand Topa Canyon mine in Simi Valley. According to county documents presented by Mosler, Gillibrand’s current F.A.C.E. is $3.1 million. “I have the smallest mine in the county,” said Mosler. “What they want me to do means I have to come up with $3 million. I can’t pay that. Who has that kind of money just lying around?”
Ojai Stop the Trucks! Coalition representatives suggest that Mosler has corporate backing and could easily afford the costs. “Mosler and his people are liars,” said coalition representative Michael Shapiro, who says that Mosler’s operation is backed by a major corporation, Tri County Trucking, and that money is readily available. “They aren’t the mom and pop store they claim to be.”
Mosler, however, says he has nothing to hide and, when asked, promptly produced the deed to the mine, which was sold to him in 2005 by Schmidt Construction for $1,003,643. Mosler pointed out that he did receive financial backing from the Marietta family, who owns Tri County Trucking, but that he doesn’t have access to funds from the company. “I used to work with the Mariettas when I had my portable rock crushing business,” said Mosler. “Schmidt wanted a million. I had $400,000. The Marietta family trust loaned me $600,000, which we have paid down to about $70,000. They played bank.”
Mosler says the Mariettas wouldn’t give him the money for a F.A.C.E., and says the mine isn’t worth enough to warrant a loan for the reclamation plan. “It’s questionable if the mine is even worth that kind of money,” continued Mosler. “No one would front $3 million for a reclamation plan. The Marietta family doesn’t have $3 million to loan me.”
If the County Board of Supervisors upholds county staff’s recommendations, Mosler would need to cease all operations of the mine within the time specified by the board. Mosler’s attorney Derek Cole has filed an appeal with the SMGB on their decision.
The board is scheduled to conduct a public hearing Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the Ventura County Government Center supervisors hearing room. Citizens concerned with the matter are urged to attend the hearing.