Battle over mining Jesse Morrow Mountain heats up

FRESNO, Calif.

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Thursday afternoon, Fresno County planners decided to delay a vote on whether to allow mining on /*Jesse Morrow Mountain*/. The foothill is just north of Highway 180, a few miles east of Sanger.

A standing room only crowd filled the Hall of Records for a very interesting battle, with 72 people signed up to give public comment. Action News first reported on this fight eight years ago, and Thursday's delay means there are at least a couple rounds left.

"Hear us now. Hear us now," opponents chanted before the Fresno County Planning Commission meeting even started.

Tensions flared as commissioners prepared to discuss the hot button topic of mining the Jesse Morrow Mountain. A crowd of dozens spilled out of the chambers and into the hallway as the Mexican-based cement company, Cemex, made its pitch to planners. They claim a new mine can actually cut down on pollution, and will be a big economic boost to the area, including between 20 and 30 new jobs. Potential employees are excited.

"Past three years there hasn't been any work around this area," said Jess Harper, who could potentially work at a new Cemex mine. "I have five children. I have to work out of state."

"A lot of people need jobs, but you don't go blowing up your backyard to get them," said Sanger resident Toni Pacini.

Opponents say Cemex is misleading planners about the pollution. They're also concerned the mine will bring more traffic, and destroy the view from Highway 180.

Cemex tried to reduce the mine's aesthetic impact, so the view of the mountain would stay mostly the same. They also shrunk the size of the proposed mine.

The original plan called for a 400-acre mine, with annual production of 2 million tons of rock, and the mine would've been active for 100 years. Cemex cut that down to a 100-acre mine, producing 1.5 million tons of rock a year over 50 years. But the smaller proposal didn't change the minds of opponents.

"Approving [the smaller plan] because it's only 75% as big and lasts 50 years instead of 100 is like telling a person you will hit them four times and then expecting them to be pleased that you'll only hit them three times," said Reedley resident Jolene Siebert.

Nearby residents say they won't ever give up the fight, but they're hoping county planners will deliver the project a knockout blow.

"Please, I beg you," Pacini pleaded. "I actually beg you. Don't do it."

They didn't do it Thursday, but the planning commission could take up the issue again next month. Even if they eventually approve it, opponents can appeal the decision to county supervisors.

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