Frequently Asked Questions
About the Property
About Our Staff
About the Roads
Why doesn't Blue Mountain Minerals pay for the bypass to downtown Sonora?
About Mining Concerns
About Fun Mining Facts
What is it going to look like when the mining is finished?
Much of the mine and reclamation areas will be filled with clay and waste rock from the mining operations, covered with topsoil and replanted with grasses and trees. There will be one area, the last to be mined, that will be reclaimed as cut slopes and benches, with trees and shrubs planted along the benches. The proposed end uses will be agricultural uses, such as grazing, and wildlife habitat. Currently, most of the mining area has already been disturbed as the property has been mined since the 1860s. The plans for reclaiming the lands are described in detail in the amended Reclamation Plan for the mine, which was approved by the County in 2015.
What does a reclamation plan do?
The reclamation plan is the planning document for concurrent and future activities to reclaim the land after mining. It includes best management practices for controlling sedimentation and erosion. It also provides information on mining closure, proposed end uses of the property, and geotechnical details about soils, slope stability and revegetation performance standards.
What regulatory oversight does the mine receive?
Mining in California is subject to overlapping regulatory oversight by over 15 federal, state and local entities. These include environmental and permitting agencies such as the State Fish and Wildlife, Regional Water Quality Control Board, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, the local Air Pollution Control District, the Tuolumne County Community Resources Agency and the Public Health Department. Other agencies such as the federal Mine Safety Administration and the state CalOSHA regulate worker safety.
What was the September 2015 EIR about?
In September 2015, the Tuolumne County Planning Commission certified an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approved an expansion to Blue Mountain Minerals' agricultural fill area of approximately 27 acres. The project included the creation of a 13.5 acre oak woodland preserve. The agricultural fill is used to store unsalable rock encountered in the process. The expansion will help ensure Blue Mountain Minerals remains a viable entity for the foreseeable future, providing a significant economic impact to Tuolumne County and northern California. Blue Mountain Minerals is committed to being a conscientious steward of the environment and a good community neighbor.
How long will the mine last?
At projected rates of production, including a growth rate of three percent per year (the estimated population growth rate in central California), there is enough material to last more than fifty years.
How many people work at the mine?
Currently, there are about 55 men and women working at the mine.
What can future generations do with the mine when it is closed?
Blue Mountain Minerals mines on private property owned by the company. The reclamation plan proposes that the end use of the property will be agricultural and wildlife habitat.
Is there any pollution of the New Melones reservoir or other water bodies by the mine?
Blue Mountain Minerals has "zero discharge" requirements issued by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. This means that there is no discharge of process water or sediment to the New Melones reservoir or any other water body. Blue Mountain Minerals has installed oil/water separators for the maintenance shop and completely recycles the water it uses in the process plant to wash the clay from the crushed rocks.
What is done to test air quality and prevent air pollution?
The local Air Pollution Control District has permitted the mining operations and regularly inspects the mine for compliance with the permit. Although permitted as a "minor source" meaning that it emits less than 100 tons per year of any "criteria pollutant", Blue Mountain Minerals has voluntarily reduced dust emissions (particulate matter below 10 microns) from its mining and processing plant. Since 2000, Blue Mountain Minerals has invested over $600,000 to reduce annual dust emissions from the plant from about 90 tons per year to less than 20 tons per year. This was done mostly by adding many "baghouses" which suck up the fugitive dust. Other pollutants, such as volatile organics (smog precursors) are emitted in very small quantities from the diesel equipment used at the mine and are far below permit levels. Blue Mountain Minerals has also installed a truck washing station and paved portions of the access road to the mine to reduce fugitive dust emissions.
What is the sulfur smell?
Sometimes visitors to the mine notice a faint sulfur smell localized near the crushing plant and ask what kinds of chemicals are used by the mine. Blue Mountain Minerals does not use any hazardous chemicals in its mining or processing of the rock. The sulfur smell is naturally occurring and comes from the crushing of the rock, which contains trace amounts of the sulfur-bearing mineral pyrite.
Does Blue Mountain Minerals ever find gold?
Yes, in very small quantities. The entire site was mined in the gold rush period for gold, and there is some gold found in the clays that are washed from the rocks, but not in quantities sufficient to be extracted commercially.
Does Blue Mountain Minerals own the trucks that deliver its products to the market?
No, Blue Mountain Minerals does not own or operate any of the highway trucks that bring our products to market. Our customers usually contract with independent trucking companies or truckers to arrange for transportation to the customer's location.
How many trucks a day are there on the roads?
The number of trucks per day varies widely depending on the day of the week and the time of year. Currently permitted production is 1.18 million tons per year. Each truck carries about 27 tons, translating into an annual average of about 120 truck trips per day (averaged over 365 days). Trucks don't haul 365 days a year, however, and there is considerable variability in a given day. In addition, average production over the last five years has been about 700,000 tons per year, translating into an annual average of about 83 trucks trips per day (based on actual hauling days). Due to variations in customers' seasonal requirements and production scheduling, daily truck traffic has varied from as high as 135 and as low as 20 trips per day.
What does Blue Mountain Minerals do about the damage to the roads caused by highway trucks?
Blue Mountain Minerals has entered into an agreement with the County to pay a per truck fee to the County Public Works. This agreement has two component fees: a road maintenance fee and a long-term improvement fee, both for use on the segments of County roads identified by Public Works. This agreement is the first of its kind in the County, and represents a voluntary contribution by Blue Mountain Minerals towards maintaining County roads.
What percentage of overall traffic through Washington Street in Downtown Sonora are Blue Mountain Minerals' trucks?
Blue Mountain Minerals has long supported the proposal to build a bypass for downtown Sonora in order to alleviate the long-term traffic congestion problems there. Blue Mountain Minerals simply cannot afford, and is not required by law, to pay for the entire bypass, as the traffic generated by Blue Mountain Minerals is a small fraction of the overall traffic through downtown. More importantly, the County has concluded that there are not sufficient federal, state or local funds to pay for the bypass. If a bypass does eventually become a reality, though, Blue Mountain Minerals would be very pleased, and is willing to pay for its fair share of the cost.
What hours and shifts does Blue Mountain Minerals operate the mine?
Currently there are four different work shifts at the mine operation. The mine production, mine maintenance and plant maintenance teams each work one eight-hour daylight shift. The plant production team works two eight-hour shifts.
Does Blue Mountain Minerals shutdown in the winter?
No, we mine and operate year-round.
How often does Blue Mountain Minerals blast?
We blast about once every other week, usually in the morning.
Has Blue Mountain Minerals damaged any cultural or historical resources by its activities?
All the mining and reclamation property has been extensively field surveyed by qualified archeologists and all cultural and historical resources mapped and identified. The State designated a local woman, Ms. Reba Fuller, as the 'Most Likely Descendant' (MLD) for Native American resources. Blue Mountain Minerals entered into a "memorandum of Agreement" with the MLD regarding these surveys and treatment of archeological resources identified by the surveys. After consultation with the MLD, other interested members of the Me-Wuk Tribe, and several qualified archeologists, in 2000-2001 Blue Mountain Minerals paid over $500,000 for a team of archeologists to conduct excavation of a well-known cave located on the Columbia quarry. The cave was then destroyed at the request of the MLD and the tribe at completion of the excavation to prevent future trespassing on the site.
In 2002, following a resolution by the Me-Wuk Tribal Council and qualified archeologists, Blue Mountain Minerals capped a section of the current reclamation area that contained a mix of historic and archeological resources. Using a marker layer, the resources were first documented by a qualified archeologist and then capped for protection. This method is commonly used throughout the State and is a standard "mitigation" activity. The MLD and a qualified archeologist were present and supervised the capping of the resources. Other identified resources outside the mining and reclamation boundaries were avoided. At no time has Blue Mountain Minerals violated State law with respect to these resources. At all times, we went above and beyond the requirements of the law, and worked cooperatively with the MLD and the tribe. We expect no impacts on any cultural resources from future mining or reclamation activities.
What are the impacts of the mine on endangered or threatened species?
A qualified biologist in consultation with the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Fish and Wildlife completed extensive biological surveys of our mining property. No federal or state endangered or threatened species were found, except a number of elderberry bushes were found, which are potential habitat for a federally listed threatened beetle. In 2000, we completed a "Section 7 consultation" with the Fish & Wildlife Service to protect these shrubs. At the conclusion of the consultation, the Service issued an "Incidental Take Permit" for Blue Mountain Minerals to take out the elderberry bushes in the mining area and established a conservation area for the shrubs. The "Biological Opinion" issued by the Service also notes that there are no other endangered or threatened species being directly or indirectly impacted by our activities.
Does the mine use any hazardous or toxic chemicals?
Blue Mountain Minerals does not use any hazardous or toxic chemicals in the mining or processing, except it does use such substances as diesel fuel and lubricating greases. These are properly handled and stored in contained areas.
Has the mine ever illegally dumped waste or hazardous chemicals?
Beginning in early 1998, a disgruntled neighbor began circulating false claims that Blue Mountain Minerals illegally dumped hazardous or toxic contaminants in our reclamation area. The State Department of Toxic Substance Control, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the County Health Department and other State and local agencies all investigated her claims. These agencies sampled soil and water for any evidence of contamination. All these agencies concluded that there was no basis to the false claims and concluded their investigations by 1999. This same person later alleged these claims again in a lawsuit filed in 2002 against Blue Mountain Minerals, which she voluntarily dismissed in January 2004 prior to trial. She admitted under oath in her deposition, however, that she has absolutely no physical evidence supporting her claims.
Where do your workers live?
About 50 of our workers live in Tuolumne County and the rest live close by in Calaveras County.