Surface Mining Operations
What is SMARA?
California's "Surface Mining And Reclamation Act" of 1975 Public Resources Code, Division 2, Chapter 9, Section 2710 et seq.
The intent of SMARA is to create and maintain an effective and comprehensive surface mining and reclamation policy, with regulation of surface mining operations. The California Department of Conservation oversees SMARA enforcement throughout the State of California through its Office Of Mine Reclamation. The County of Riverside is designated "Lead Agency" for the administration of SMARA in all Riverside County areas. Each city within the County, administers SMARA within their jurisdiction unless that authority is contracted to another agency.
Within the Department of Conservation are offices, which are assigned certain responsibilities. These offices are the Office Of Mine Reclamation (OMR), the State Mining and Geology Board and the Division of Mines and Geology. The Office of Mine Reclamation renders technical assistance, maintains a database of all mines in California, and regulates compliance statewide. The State Mining and Geology Board promulgates regulations, sets California policy regarding mining issues, and conducts the Appeals Board in disputed issues. The Division of Mines and Geology is an information resource. They maintain the Mineral Resource Library, publish the California Geology magazine and classify all identified mineral resource land in California.
For additional detailed information regarding SMARA please click on link for the Department of Conservation Web Page.
Surface Mining in Riverside County, General Information
Generally, under SMARA surface mining applies to the extraction of minerals for commercial purposes and removal of overburden in amounts more than 1000 cubic yards in any one location of one acre or more. Surface mining regulations may not apply to excavations or grading conducted for farming or on-site construction or restoring land following a flood or natural disaster. There are other exemptions, but these occur infrequent and are examined individually.
There are two types of surface mining operations in Riverside County. One requires a Surface Mine Permit and the other is known as a "Vested Mine". Before surface mining can commence in either type of operation, the operator must submit an application with the Planning Department, provide the required documentation, and on approval, have a mining plan, reclamation plan, financial assurances and a mine inspection.
"Vested Mines" are surface mining operations that were in operation before SMARA went into effect in 1975 and there have not been substantial changes in the operation since. In this instance, no Surface Mining Permit is issued. However, the operator must have an approved reclamation plan, financial assurances, submit annual reports to the Department of Conservation and Riverside County as the Lead Agency, and submit to an annual mine field inspection.
A Surface Mine Permit takes this one step further in requiring a mining plan. The operator must also have the reclamation plan, financial assurances, must submit their annual reports and they are also required to be inspected annually. The field inspection is generally for compliance with the conditions of use as outlined in their permit. In either type of operation, there may also be additional periodic inspections as conditions or situations dictate.
In Riverside County, all surface mine annual inspections are "Deposit Based", which means fees are required to be submitted before the inspection takes place. Fees are assessed on an hourly basis. Fees are determined according to the actual time spent by personnel on the field inspection and file review of annual reports and financial assurances. Included in the fee assessment are personnel benefits, department overhead as well as other cost that may be incurred for the inspection.
To reduce the hourly field inspection cost for the surface mine operator, we attempt to schedule site visits in geographic areas that contain several surface mines. This reduces the overall travel time to and from the inspections per surface mine, thus reducing individual cost. However, this cannot happen all of the time. Once the inspection is completed, refunds of fees deposited are issued to the applicant. After an inspection permit is "Finalized" a refund is required, or in the case of not enough money had been deposited, a bill for the remainder is sent to the operator. Fees cannot be carried over to the next inspection permit.
The Building & Safety and Planning Departments have developed an information packet for new Surface Mine Permits and for revisions of exiting permits. This information packet is available at all of the County of Riverside Regional Offices. A Surface Mine Permit must be obtained before any mining takes place.
PROJECT APPLICATION PROCESS
When an application is submitted, it is reviewed for completeness according to the criteria established by SMARA and the Riverside County Code. The application must include the mining and reclamation plans. These items must be delineated in both map and text form. Several items are considered essential elements of a mining and reclamation plan.
- Indicate how the operation will progress. (From setup to open for business.)
- Locations of all operations; including equipment, stockpiles, settling ponds, interim drainage, NPDES/SWPPP, and mineral deposits.
- The progression of excavating through the use of cross sections of elevations.
- Indicate the time between mining and reclamation.
- Method of handling simultaneous excavation and reclamation.
PROJECT APPLICATION REVIEW PROCESS
The application is reviewed for compliance pursuant to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A copy of the application and exhibits are distributed to the affected County departments, appropriate State and Federal agencies, if affected, neighboring cities, and they are made available to surrounding property owners. This review assesses mitigation measures that may be required for the proposed project.
After review, either a positive or negative declaration will be made with respect to the proposed project. A "positive" declaration requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), whereas a "negative" does not. In a negative declaration, this indicates the Planning Department staff can support the project. In either type of declaration, "Conditions Of Use" for the permit or Reclamation Plan are prepared based upon the response received from the referral process.
When CEQA procedures and Riverside County, State and other local agency reviews are completed, public hearings are held before the Riverside County Planning Commission. Whenever a public hearing is scheduled, the applicant, surrounding property owners and anyone who has a written request is notified of the date and time of the hearing. At the hearing the applicant and/or their representatives must be present to answer questions that may arise.
After the Riverside County Planning Commission approves the project, "Conditions Of Use" are generated and the mining operation is required to comply.
ANNUAL REPORTING AND INSPECTION
There are several conditions that must be complied with in the first year of operation of a new surface mining project. Two of these conditions that surface mine operators must submit to is the "Annual Report" and the "Annual Special Inspection".
The Department of Conservation, Office of Mine Reclamation supplies the forms for annual reporting. The initial "New Mine Operation Report" (MRRC-3) is completed and sent to the Department Of Conservation along with the filing fee. The yellow copy is sent to Riverside County, Building & Safety Department who will enforce the "Conditions Of Use" in surface mining projects.
Each year thereafter, the Department of Conservation, in about May, sends to the mine operator a dated, "Mining Operation Annual Report" (MRRC-2). After the form is completed by the operator, the yellow copy is sent to the Building & Safety Department. The Annual Report is required to be submitted by June 30 of each year, or face an admistrative penalty.
The mandatory inspection is to insure compliance with the conditions of the mining and reclamation plans. To complete the inspection, an Annual Special Inspection Permit is issued for surface mining. This permit is required to coincide with submission of the Annual Report to the Department of Conservation. In the first year of operation the mine operator applies to the County of Riverside, Building & Safety Department for the first "Annual Special Inspection Permit". Each year thereafter, the operator applies to the Building & Safety Department for the inspection permit no latter than June 30. The first inspection will take place immediately upon approval of the project. Thereafter, annual inspections will take place whenever the schedule can be worked out within the fiscal year.
All surface mining projects are required to establish financial assurances after approval of the reclamation plan but prior to the start of the operation. This is to guarantee that work outlined in the reclamation plan will be completed as described in the plan within the specified time limits.
Financial assurances are based on the size and type of operation. The figures used in calculations are based on: 1) an analysis of the physical activities necessary to implement the approved reclamation plan; 2) the lead agency (Riverside County) or a third party contract, unit cost for each of the activities; 3) the number of units of each of these activities; and 4) an amount to cover contingency costs and actual lead agency administrative cost.
Financial assurances can be in the form of 1) Surety Bond; 2) Trust Fund; 3) Irrevocable Letter of Credit; and 4) other mechanisms specified by the Board. The choice of mechanism is up to the mine operator. The financial assurance must be made payable to the lead agency (Riverside County). The operator is responsible for maintaining the financial assurances throughout the life of the project.
Financial assurances are reviewed annually by the lead agency (Riverside County) and if necessary adjusted to reflect changes in 1) cost of reclamation pursuant to the approved reclamation plan; 2) lands reclaimed the previous year to the satisfaction of the lead agency (Riverside County); and 3) land that will be disturbed in the next year.
If an approved mining operation is sold or ownership is transferred, the original financial assurance must remain in effect until a new one is in place. The original financial assurance will be released only when the new one has been approved.
EXPIRATION OF PERMIT
Once the project is approved an expiration date is assigned. Care should be given to this expiration date, as it is easier and less complicated to revise the permit with new expiration dates than to start over from the beginning, as would be the case with an expired permit.
See Contact Information on the left hand side of this page near the top.