SACRAMENTO - A bill that would allow certain mines to forgo reclamation plans was made into law Wednesday.
Under previous law, a surface mining operation was considered idle if it scaled back its activity for one year or more, by more than 90 percent of the operation's previous maximum annual mineral production.
The mining company had to submit an interim management plan to the government within 90 days of curtailing operations.
Now, many mining operations can be exempt from being considered idle and no longer will be required to submit environmental plans for review.
Senate Bill 108 generated almost no controversy in the Senate or Assembly, but it has many conservationists worried. A number of letters were sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, including one from 3rd District County Supervisor Neil Derry, urging him to veto the bill.
Members of the Morongo Basin Conservation Association say the bill could allow the Eagle Mountain mining site to switch its status from abandoned to idle, giving way for future development that could jeopardize areas of Joshua Tree National Park.
Derry sent his request for veto to Brown last week.
In his letter, Derry explained that residents of the Morongo Basin have been attempting to reclaim a significant area of the Eagle Mountains, to combine with Joshua Tree National Park.
He described their concern that SB 108 would allow mining to continue at the Eagle Mountain Mining site, which has been dormant for more than 20 years.
"The implication of this reactivation is potentially significant in that it may allow for greater ease in the creation of a landfill/dump, future solar and hydroelectric power plants and other developments that run the risk of permanently altering the natural landscape," Derry wrote.
It is unclear whether Kaiser Ventures, which owns the Eagle Mountain Mine site, plans to reintroduce mining activity or move forward with long-opposed plans for a landfill on the site.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Michael Rubio, whose district includes Bakersfield and Fresno. Rubio said late last month the bill was designed primarily to save jobs by allowing low-producing mines to stay active, rather than falling into idle status.
Laraine Turk, president of the Morongo Basin Conservation Association, said by phone Friday that the nonprofit organization will be on alert and continue to monitor any activity in the Eagle Mountain area.
"We always have to be on guard for this kind of thing. It is on our radar and we will try to keep an ear to the ground and see if there are other methods of keeping our worst fears from happening," Turk said.
The MBCA has been coordinating with Donna and Larry Charpied, who live in the Chuckwalla Valley near Eagle Mountain.