Amid a push for homes, infrastructure, and road repairs, an end to the concrete and asphalt from a mining company along the San Joaquin River would hike construction costs while increasing greenhouse gases, construction experts say.
City of Fresno officials have said all options are on the table regarding mining company CEMEX, which is seeking a four-year extension on its operating permit. Those options include a lawsuit that could stop operations when the company’s permit expires on July 28.
In June, City Attorney Andrew Janz sent an 11th-hour appeal to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. The appeal challenges the Fresno County Planning Commission’s grant of an extension to CEMEX while the company finishes its Environmental Impact Report.
“The bottom line is they have an EIR that is decades old, they have not dealt with the serious impacts to our roads with all the thousands and thousands of truck trips on the road, air quality issues,” said Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld.
The Board of Supervisors will likely hear the item on Tuesday, July 18 — 10 days before the company’s permit expires.
If supervisors approve the extension, the city council would have to decide its next actions, said Bredefeld. It would take legal action and a court order to stop operations at the site south of Friant Dam. Bredefeld said going to court is not something he would normally want.
“But if that’s what we have to do, then we will,” Bredefeld said.
Trucking Sand & Gravel From Far Away Is Expensive, Increases Emissions
Mix sand, gravel, and cement, and you get concrete for construction. Mix sand, gravel, and oil, you get asphalt for roads.
“[E]xtending the conditional use permit will actually reduce traffic on our roads and reduce air pollution by avoiding the need to import aggregate from other counties.”
— James Hammond, business manager, Laborers’ International Union of America
Purchasing concrete, sand, and rocks for a project is a proximity game, says Clifton Walhberg, president of E-Z Haul Ready Mix and Rockery in Fresno.
“The products themselves — the rocks and the sand — are pretty cheap, but the cost to haul them is very expensive,” Wahlberg said.
Project managers look for anything within 50 to 100 miles. Wahlberg sources some decorative rocks from as far as Redding and Barstow. Of the $100 a ton he’ll spend on rocks, $80 will be for freight.
“Keeping a construction project viable means having local sources of rock and sand,” Wahlberg said.
When the CEMEX plant was down a few years ago, Wahlberg had to source sand from Kettleman City.
Extending the permit for CEMEX actually reduces traffic and greenhouse gases, said James Hammond, business manager for Laborers’ International Union of North America.
Who is CEMEX?
CEMEX is a Mexican company with U.S. headquarters in Houston, Texas. The company employs about 100 people in Fresno.
The $10.3 billion company has locations in 14 states and 29 countries, employing 43,718 people globally, according to its Q1 investor report. Sales in the first quarter reached $4 billion.
The Rockfield Quarry, located just south of Lost Lake has been operating since 1913. The plant site has been in operation since 1924. The proposed land has been zoned for mining since that time.
In 2011, Cemex proposed mining the Jesse Morrow Mountain, 15 miles west of Kings Canyon National Park. The company withdrew its proposal after opposition from the Choinumni Tribe of Yokuts Indians protested the mine.
Company officials began looking at Jesse Morrow Mountain after they had said at the time that resources at the Friant River operation were nearly exhausted.
CEMEX Is Three Years Into EIR Process
Rather than begin digging at a new site, CEMEX determined it could go deeper at the San Joaquin River property. To go down as deep as 600 feet, however, the company needed to get the EIR.
An EIR is a study looking at how a project will affect a surrounding area across 19 different categories. Those categories range from visual aesthetics to air quality to noise and greenhouse gas emissions. A government will usually contract with a third party to conduct the study and the company doing the project underwrites the costs.
Fresno County began the process at the end of 2019 to determine how a deeper quarry would impact the surrounding area.
Even though the county is three years into the EIR process, that doesn’t change the fact the document is not available for the public to review, said Janz, the city attorney.
“The city is painted into a corner, too, because we have to preserve our claims,” said Janz. “And that’s why we have to appeal this, because who knows what’s going to be in this EIR.”
City Unsure About EIR’s Status
Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi called the appeal “premature,” saying the city should have waited for the EIR to come out to see what questions the document answers.
“I think the city has some fair questions on how much of our city roads are being utilized by these heavy-duty trucks and making sure that we’re adequately compensated for that so taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for a company located in the county,” Karbassi said.
Janz told GV Wire that he’s unsure if the county has actually begun the EIR process.
“We have no indication whether there’s an EIR being worked on,” Janz said. “The county made reference to the fact that they may do an EIR but we haven’t seen any effort to complete that.”
Karbassi said a phone call to the county confirmed one was being worked on. Janz said that, regardless, the county is relying on the original EIR dating back to the 1980s.
Extension Doesn’t Change Operations
In the last decade, housing has expanded all over metro Fresno. Meanwhile, Bredefeld said, the county has been ignoring the impacts of CEMEX.
“The county acts like there’s just simply hundreds of trips from these trucks,” Bredefeld said. “And our own analysis recently suggests that there are tens of thousands of these trips. These issues have to be addressed.”
Some residents, as well as the city of Fresno, opposed the extension without the EIR’s completion.
Neighbors say in letters to the county that CEMEX’s operations have gone beyond what the current EIR allows. They say the planning commission should not have allowed the extension without knowing CEMEX’s trucks and noise impacts.
Arias: Complying With EIR Is Important Regardless of the Industry
Like Bredefeld and Janz, Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias said the city will evaluate its options when it comes to the pollution and traffic related to CEMEX. He added that despite the need for construction materials, companies need to be held responsible.
“Irrespective of what industry you operate, you have a fundamental responsibility — a legal and moral one — to the area in which you operate,” Arias said.
“Irrespective of what industry you operate, you have a fundamental responsibility — a legal and moral one — to the area in which you operate.” — Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias
A CEMEX spokesperson told GV Wire that the company isn’t changing its operations until the modification project is approved.
“Peer reviews of the technical work is underway and we expect the County to release a draft EIR sometime in the near future, which will be distributed for public comment at that time,” said Megan Burks, communication manager for CEMEX.
“Once the final EIR is complete, the county will describe the necessary environmental mitigation measures that must be completed with the approval of our project application.”
Few Replacements for CEMEX in Fresno
CEMEX and Vulcan Materials are the largest providers of aggregate in the area, said Mike Prandini, president of the Building Industry Association of Fresno and Madera Counties.
Prandini polled his members about the CEMEX market share. Of the four homebuilders that responded, two said they got all their material from CEMEX.
Another source from the BIA estimated that CEMEX has about 25% of the market’s share.
Gravel Is the Building Block for Construction
“If that plant were to close, projects that are about to start or homes that are under construction would have to pause and rethink the finances and see … if the project even made sense anymore.” — Clifton Wahlberg, president, E-Z Haul Ready Mix
Four-hundred tons of aggregate go into a home, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. A school or hospital uses 15,000 tons. One lane mile of interstate highway requires 38,000 tons.
Fresno County is projected to need 6.1 million tons of aggregate annually over the next 50 years, according to a CEMEX presentation.
Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza estimates there is about $800 million in deferred maintenance for Fresno roads.
Cement prices are up in the U.S. by 22%, according to CEMEX’s Q1 earnings report. Ready-mix concrete prices are up by 24% and aggregate — the sand and gravel that turns cement into usable concrete — is up by 30%.
And a lot of people don’t realize how essential gravel is to construction because it’s not obvious, Wahlberg said. For him, the next closest plant for material is Merced.
An on-ramp could use 5,000 tons of rock while a truck carries 25.
Four loads in one day is about $1,000 worth of trucking. That equals out to about 40 trucks for two months.
“If you change it down to one load a day because they have to go up to Merced and back, you’re quadrupling the amount of cost just to get that material,” said Wahlberg, “The importance of local quarries, I don’t think, can be overstated.”
CEMEX Concrete in Fresno Projects
CEMEX provides concrete and asphalt to projects throughout Fresno. Concrete from the mine has built:
- Chukchansi Park
- Save Mart Center
- Clovis Community Hospital
- Highways 41, 180, and 168 as well as the Highway 180 interchange
- Amazon distribution centers
- Most of River Park
- Table Mountain Casino’s new facility
- Riverstone in Madera
- Tesoro Viejo in Madera
- Granville Homes
- McCaffrey Homes
- Wathen Castanos Homes
Wahlberg gets all of his material from CEMEX. A shutdown would mean an immediate increase to all his prices, he said. That would mean going line-by-line to see where else the product could be sourced.
“If that plant were to close, projects that are about to start or homes that are under construction would have to pause and rethink the finances and see … if the project even made sense anymore,” Wahlberg said.