John Pehl’s request to mine sand from the Salinas River north of Paso Robles was denied by members of the newly reconstituted SLO County Planning Commission, who said the river system has been over-mined.
On a 5-0 decision, the commission voted to deny Pehl’s request for a permit to mine the river three months of the year for 20 years. Pehl asked for a continuance of his application so he could scale back the project’s scope. He told commissioners he was looking into downsizing the project by 50 to 70 percent, but needed more time to work out a final proposal. Commissioners decided not to let him continue the hearing again and voted on the application that had been submitted. Pehl unsuccessfully argued that housing developers regularly change projects with no problems.
His original project to mine about 80,000 cubic yards per year ran into trouble when the California Department of Fish and Game wanted full Environmental Impact Reports on Pehl’s and four other proposed mining operations.
“The way I see it is you’ve seen the worst-case scenario in front of you,” Pehl told planning commissioners on Jan. 22. And the new project would be “less of everything.”
His arguments didn’t get very far and aroused public outcry that the lengthy hearing process was eating up county staff time, taxpayer dollars, and forcing people to skip work so they could attend meetings. Pehl’s application began going through public hearings last March.
Pehl did not respond for further comment before press time.
Colleen Enk, a Paso Robles horse trainer who was sued for her comments against mining operations, said Pehl was dragging out the process and trying to confuse the public.
“This is astounding,” she said. “No matter … how he changes this project around, it’s the same.”
Now, it looks as though Pehl and other miners with pending applications will have to wait for a detailed environmental study of the Salinas River before they will have any chance of approval. Based on several expert opinions, commissioners concluded that the river is currently having more sand dug out of it than can be naturally replenished. County officials have long talked about a study of the river system around Paso Robles, but have not solidified funding or a timeline yet.
Planning commissioners denied another application by Paul Viborg for the same reasons that Pehl was turned down. Viborg wanted to mine the Estrella River using a less stringent Mitigated Negative Declaration, but commissioners decided an EIR was required and denied his application. Viborg appealed to SLO County supervisors and won a 3-2 majority in one of their last decisions of 2008.