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More environment studies likely for sand miners

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A group of North County sand and gravel miners think they’re getting an unfair shake from SLO County, but the county is standing its ground and could make mining in the area more difficult and more expensive.

Paul Viborg’s Estrella River sand mining project was shot down by the Planning Commission on Sept. 11 after the California Department of Fish and Game sent a letter that changed the environmental review from a Mitigated Negative Declaration to a full-blown Environmental Impact Report. According to Viborg, Fish and Game stepped in only because a member of the Planning Commission and some county planning staff wanted to kill the project by subjecting it to lengthy and costly environmental studies. Viborg said he plans to appeal to the Board of Supervisors.

Viborg and four other miners in Paso Robles have asked to skip the Planning Commission and take their projects directly to the Board of Supervisors. County supervisors have not taken a formal stance on the appeal request.

On Sept. 16, county planning staff refuted the accusation and argued that the miners went through the same process as any other project. Because of the number of projects in the Salinas River and its tributaries, the Building and Planning Department is also considering a massive study to assess the effects of mining on the rivers and the surrounding watershed. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the study.

The board did not vote on the study and only asked that staff look further at the cost and where funding could come from.

On Sept. 25 John Pehl’s request to mine the Salinas River will go to the Planning Commission. His project, however, has also received a recommendation that it go through a full environmental review.

Neither Pehl nor Viborg would guess how their projects would fare with the Board of Supervisors, but both believed their chances would be better if they could get around the planning commission and staff.

“We’ve got evidence that says they’ve got their own agenda,” Viborg said.

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