Carmelita Mine Project
The Carmelita Mine project was born as a result of regional need. In 2006 (and again in 2012), the California Geologic Survey updated its “Aggregate Availability in California” report on aggregate reserves and projected aggregate demand in California. The report’s accompanying Map Sheet 52 is a statewide summary of 50-year demands and permitted resource calculations for construction aggregate. Out of 31 aggregate study areas in the state, Fresno was one of four with less than 10 years of permitted reserves remaining.
Located in the Kings River Mineral Resource Zone, the Carmelita site encompasses approximately 1,500 acres where farming had been challenging because of poor soil quality and cobbled and porous surface conditions. Surface mining would affect approximately 60 percent of the site (886 acres), and approximately 40 percent of the site would continue to be used for agricultural operations, primarily production of tree crops. At a rate of 1.25 million tons per year, the site could support 100 years of aggregate production. The mine and reclamation concept provided for use of available overburden, salvaged soils, and process fines to re‐create agricultural soils in mining-reclamation cells that would be sequentially excavated and backfilled with overburden, fines, and topsoil from previous cells or reclaimed as water basins used for irrigation of the approximately 854 acres of both reclaimed (240 acres) and unmined farming surfaces (614 acres) on‐site.
Several neighbors living in the Mineral Resource Zone opposed the operation. Allegations of land use compatibility were voiced, with concerns regarding the potential for increased bird air strike hazards at the local airport, water loss through evaporation, health issues related to mosquitoes, and no beneficial end use. Fresno County fully vetted the issues and unanimously approved the project. Because of a provision in the California State Mining and Reclamation Act allowing for appeals to the State Mining and Geology Board for sites within Mineral Resource Zones (intended for use by operators denied local approval within the state-designated Mineral Resource Zone), the project underwent an extended review process at the state level, then was reapproved by the County.
Benchmark Resources designed the mine and reclamation plan and initiated a wide array of environmental and land use studies to identify and resolve issues and modify the project concept before the application was filed, to present an environmentally sound proposal. Our team presented and supported the project through a lengthy process involving eight public hearings. The approved Carmelita project is the largest volume of permitted reserves and longest operating permit in Fresno County.