In the ancestral homeland of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, nearly 80 miles northeast of San Francisco, lies the region of Yolo County—a fertile and unique agricultural community. Like many agricultural communities in California, the importance of protecting the physical landscape and preserving water quality amidst the changing climate is vital; it is the future of the land that influences their everyday lives. Yet, how can this be accomplished if the actions of decision-makers in this county continue to allow for open-pit mining on vital farmland? It simply cannot.
Since 1989, Teichert, a private construction material and infrastructure company, has been operating in Esparto, CA. On this site, they have had an annual permittance to extract 1,176,471 tons of sand and gravel for the market. Nancy Price, a resident of Davis, recalls the efforts she made in 1996 with the “Citizens for Responsible Mining” to challenge the presence of local aggregate mining. Concerns over the environment were just as persistent then as they are now.
On April 27, 2021, Teichert submitted their application to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors for the proposed new Shifler Project Site, land to be permitted for the use of extracting gravel and sand for the next 30 years. The plan involves transitioning the Esparto Plant to the proposed new project site, as well as plans for reclamation efforts post-extraction. The “Shifler Mining and Reclamation Project” site is privately owned land by Leslie Shifler, LJ Shifler Family Trust.
Teichert was required to submit an Environmental Impact Report as a part of this application. A study conducted by Raney, a planning and management company, found the project would have significant impacts on the landscape that the public must be made aware of. These impacts include but are not limited to aesthetics, agriculture and forest resources, biological resources, cultural resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, mineral resources, tribal cultural resources, and more. The EIR submitted by Teichert was considered “certified” despite the serious environmental concerns of the project.
On Jan 11, 2022, The Yolo County Board of Supervisors approved the project and the claims made in EIR by a vote of 4 to 1, with Supervisor Gary Sandy voting against the motion.
Not only is the approval of this project disappointing, but it’s a setback for a generation of activists who made real progress in the 1990s. Additionally, this mining project makes it impossible for Yolo County to meet its climate goals outlined in its Climate Action Resolution (2020)—which committed the Board of Supervisors to the goal of being a carbon-negative county by 2030.
So, what now?
The approval of the Shifler Project brings forward a multitude of environmental justice and agricultural issues. As these projects continue to leech on the land and wreak havoc on our natural resources, local decision-makers neglect to enforce their responsibilities and fulfill their promises. This has brought together a diverse set of local activists: Ann Liu, Nancy Price, Nancy Lea, Juliette Beck, Alessa Johns, and Dr. Charles Salocks, to formulate a local citizens group named “Yolo Land and Water Defense.”
The Yolo Land and Water Defense coalition, in conjunction with The Sierra Club Yolano Group, has pursued legal action against Yolo County to secure compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, accountability in the approval of the defective EIR, Native American restoration involvement, and third-party mitigation in surveying the quality of the land throughout the duration of the thirty-year project. Their arguments are based on problems found in open pit mining sites in the Yolo County area. Alarming examples include loss of prime farmland, methyl mercury toxic contamination and exposure, unknown adverse effects on groundwater, greenhouse gas emissions, unrealistic and incomplete restoration efforts, and negative impacts on community well-being.
The “Yolo Land and Water Defense” are a group full of diversity, knowledge, and wisdom. Some of their members are former and current educators, scholars, scientists, farmers, and powerful concerned citizens. With diversity as their strength, they have been determined to work diligently and advocate for the land and water. A social movement has been resurrected from the efforts of this project and leaves a sense of hope for the future.
As we continue to witness our global environment suffer from large, unregulated corporations that have been given access to destruction by policy and decision-makers, it is important to take a closer look at the decisions happening locally. During election time, it is important to consider how we can hold local officials accountable for the promises they make to their constituents. More importantly, it offers insight into the greater importance of “people power.” Working to stay engaged in local politics and protecting native land are the first steps to tackling large-scale environmental issues. For more information on the lawsuit, environmental impacts, and how to get involved, visit: yololandwaterdefense.org.
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