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The end: Supervisors approve agreement to close Lehigh Cement plant

Aerial view of Lehigh Cement Plant.

SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors today approved a legally binding agreement between the County and Hansen Permanente Cement, Inc and Lehigh Southwest Cement Company, the corporations that own and operate the Lehigh Cement Plant, respectively, to cease cement production and permanently shutter the company’s cement plant in the County’s foothills.

Lehigh announced in November 2022 that it would not restart production at the cement plant and reaffirmed that commitment in a letter to the County in March 2023. County Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose District Five includes the Lehigh Cement and Permanente Quarry, and County staff have been pursuing a legally binding agreement ensuring permanent closure since April. Earlier this year, Simitian met with Lehigh officials at their Irving, Texas headquarters to speak with the company about a permanent, legally binding closure agreement.

“I’m pleased with this outcome,” Simitian said. “I’ve pushed for a standalone agreement shutting down the cement plant because it guarantees closure –- right now, and forever –- in a way that’s legally binding. It protects the community from a change in plans by Lehigh, or new ownership, or simply a new business model. And I figured if Lehigh was sincere about its intention to close the cement plant after an 84-year run, it would just be a matter of making that stated commitment legally binding.” Simitian noted that, “Dealing with a multinational corporation headquartered in Heidelberg (Heidelberg Materials) offers some particular challenges in terms of protecting our local interests.”

Simitian took particular note of language in the agreement that provides: “This Agreement is binding on the heirs, successors, and assigns of the Parties.” That language, said Simitian, “guarantees that any and all future owners understand the cement plant is irrevocably closed.”

The agreement follows on the heels of Lehigh’s submission of a newly proposed Reclamation Plan Amendment (RPA), which addresses contentious aspects of its 2019 proposal in which Lehigh put forth a plan to mine additional limestone from the area, and to cut back the slope of the north quarry wall for mining.

Lehigh had looked to set aside the County’s ridgeline protection agreement to accomplish these goals, a proposal Simitian characterized as “a nonstarter.” To protect the ridgeline and surrounding habitat that is part of the property, in 2021 the County and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (Midpen) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to share enforcement of the ridgeline preservation easement (granted in 1972) that protects the land adjacent to Rancho San Antonio County Park. The newly submitted 2023 RPA application, however, now indicates an intention to preserve the quarry north wall ridgeline and to forego new mining. The County will begin processing the updated RPA once the application has been deemed complete.

Green Foothills, an environmental advocacy nonprofit focusing on Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, has been a longtime proponent of closing the cement plant.

“We commend the Board of Supervisors for their commitment to securing a legally binding agreement to permanently close the Lehigh Cement Plant,” said incoming Green Foothills Executive Director Julie Hutcheson. “This milestone marks a significant step toward addressing long-standing environmental concerns. We look forward to working together toward the restoration of this landscape for the benefit of people and wildlife.”

“The Sierra Club appreciates the County’s focused and sustained leadership toward bringing multi-authority resolution and clarity to a complex environmental situation,” said James Eggers, Director at Sierra Club, Loma Prieta Chapter.

Additionally, in anticipation of the permanent closure of Lehigh’s cement plant and quarry operations, the County and City of Cupertino, who share jurisdiction over different portions of the property, have entered into an agreement that clarifies how they’ll approach development proposals that may be made as a result of the shutdown. The joint agreement, unanimously approved on June 21 by the Cupertino City Council and on June 27 by the County Board of Supervisors, stipulates that the City and County will work together to ensure that any future development of the Lehigh site benefits the surrounding community.

“I am grateful to the County for its partnership with the City of Cupertino to solidify this agreement that reflects a solid framework for redevelopment of the Lehigh site, acknowledging opportunities for economic development while protecting the environment and public health,” said Cupertino Mayor Hung Wei.

In recent months, support for the closing has come from community leaders in Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Cupertino; organized labor (Teamsters Local 853 and Operating Engineers Local 3); environmental groups (Green Foothills, Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, Mothers Out Front, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Greenbelt Alliance, South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition, Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, Grassroots Ecology, Bay Area for Clean Environment, Muwekma Ohlone); the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District; and the Santa Clara County Medical Association.

Simitian said today’s agreement between the County and Heidelberg Materials aligns with his goals to: (1) Close the cement plant; (2) Stop mining in the quarry; and (3) Begin the restoration and reclamation of the property.

Timeline of Events

January 25, 2022 – The Board of Supervisors unanimously approves Simitian’s proposal for a 10-year comprehensive review of all noticed violations filed against Lehigh.

June 7, 2022 – County staff reports back that there have been more than 2,135 violations, and tens of millions of dollars in assessed fines and penalties at Lehigh between 2012 and 2021. Given those findings, and on Simitian’s motion, the Board unanimously votes to direct the Planning Commission to conduct a public hearing to consider revoking or amending Lehigh’s use permit.

December 12, 2022 – The Board reaffirms its direction to the Planning Commission to hold a modification/revocation hearing.

April 18, 2023 – The Board unanimously approves Simitian’s motion to seek a negotiated, permanent, and legally binding commitment to shut down the cement plant operations.