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Massive Santa Clara County Sand Mine Project Opposed By Native American Tribe

GILROY (CBS SF) -- After two years of work, Santa Clara County is nearly finished with the environmental impact report on a proposed 320-acre sand mine near the southern border with San Benito County.

The project is nestled in the southeastern-most corner of a 6600-acre plot of cattle grazing land known as Sargent Ranch, just west of Highway 101, four miles south of Gilroy

Howard Justus, a managing member of Sargent Ranch Partners, LLC, the entity that owns the land and is applying for the permit, has been in communication with county staff as the EIR is being finalized.

"We have seen most of the issues that are in it. We are talking with the county with the issues that we are objecting to," said Justus, "But from a global perspective, we are quite happy with what we believe is in it."

The proposal calls for the sand to be mined in four phases, with approximately 120 acres being mined at any given time.

When each phase ends, the plan calls for restoring the area to its natural state as the next phase is implemented. According to Justus, the sand mine is estimated to create two dozen union jobs, generate $3 million in tax revenue every year, and diversify the supply of sand used in Bay Area construction projects.

"Right now, the majority of the construction grade sand coming into the peninsula is barged in out of Vancouver, Canada," Justus said. "So this will be the only local sand supply source, supplying the South Bay region. So if something were to happen to that source out of Canada for political, economic, or weather reasons, it would put a number of construction projects in the Bay Area at risk."

However, to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the land is known as "Juristac", meaning "place of the Big Head", and has been in use for millennia.

The tribe did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement made at a 2018 United Nations meeting, Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust demanded the land remain untouched.

"For thousands of years and hundreds of generations, Big Head ceremonies were held at Juristac," Lopez said. "These ceremonies were for healing and renewal. To maintain balance in the four seasons and so much more. Juristac is the most sacred site of the Amah Mutsun, and is the home of our spiritual leader, Kuksui."

The Amah Mutsun say building a sand mine would taint the land, and destroy their heritage and traditions.

"The sand and gravel mining proposal will result in four sacred hills being reduced to an open pit in the ground. The Amah Mutsun call on Santa Clara County to deny the permit at Juristac," said Lopez.

"That's nearly ten square miles of land. We believe there's enough here for everybody. There should be enough that we can all compromise and get what we need out of it," said Justus, "and if we compromise a bit, we all walk away with something."

Once the EIR is complete later this summer, the public will have 60 days to comment. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will then vote on the project


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