We're Outta Here! 

A massive mining operation near the Sunol-Ohlone wilderness will send the East Bay's coveted elk and eagles fleeing, to say nothing of the hikers.

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During a recent hike to the top of Maguire Peaks with environmentalist Jeff Miller, it became clear exactly how the mining operation will slice through the tule elk habitat. In the rainy season, the animals huddle on the hilltops near the reservoir, munching on grasses. But as the hot summer months approach, they migrate to Maguire Springs, just below Maguire Peaks, where the females birth their calves near a freshwater creek, protected by the shade of giant oak trees.

The rock crushing will no doubt traumatize the elk, but the dynamite and a proposed mining road choked with trucks will most likely drive them from their home. DeSilva is planning a thirty-foot-wide, five-mile mining road from Apperson Ridge down past San Antonio Reservoir to Calaveras Road. This paved road will cut the elk's territory in half, and the trucks may well prevent the large animals from crossing. The blasts, too, will terrorize them. Studies of Rocky Mountain elk in Wyoming in the early 1980s showed that loud sounds such as blasting send the seven-hundred-pound animals into a full gallop for several kilometers in the opposite direction.

Alameda County's own environmental impact review of the mining operation pointed out these facts more than twenty years ago. "It is highly unlikely that they would tolerate the construction and truck traffic along the proposed access road," the study concluded about the elk near Apperson Ridge. "It appears that the most likely response of the elk to this disturbance would be to move from the area."

But there may be nowhere else for them to go. The elk chose San Antonio Reservoir because it's perfect — there are no humans around, except for the occasional water department employee, explained Dale McCullough, a former professor of wildlife biology at UC Berkeley who has written several books on tule elk. "The fact that they are where they are is because it's the best place for them," he said.

And if the elk don't find another home that can sustain them, it's likely they won't be able to reproduce, according to Joe Hobbs, elk coordinator for the state's Department of Fish and Game. "Slowly, through time, they'll likely downsize until they're no longer viable and then fade away," he said.

Road builders, even politically connected ones, need easy access to aggregate, a combination of rock, sand, and gravel. If they're forced to purchase it or truck it in from afar, they'll forfeit their competitive edge when bidding on government contracts. "It costs so much to transport rock, and it's pretty tough to buy it and stay competitive," explained Steve Jazdzewski, a consultant for the Bay Area mining and quarrying industry for the past twenty years. "You're much better off if you have a source of rock as close as possible to the market."

Until now, DeSilva has had plenty of rock available in the East Bay. Not coincidentally, he's consistently been among the low bidders on public contracts and has profited mightily as a result. His La Vista Quarry in the Hayward hills supplied rock to midcounty projects, while Leona Quarry in the Oakland hills met the demands of northern Alameda County. But in the past three years, both mines ran out of rock and closed down. DeSilva plans to turn La Vista into a 174-home development, and he's in the process of transforming the Leona site into four hundred homes.

For decades DeSilva's last remaining quarry, Dumbarton in Fremont, has supplied rock for south county road building, including a current I-880 widening project in that area. But the quarry, located at the foot of Dumbarton Bridge, is about to meet the same fate as DeSilva's other mines. "We're almost done there," the developer said. The mine is scheduled to shut down in the summer of 2007. After it's rehabilitated, DeSilva will hand it over to the park district to be annexed into Coyote Hills Regional Park.

Once it closes, Apperson Ridge will be DeSilva's final ace in the hole. It's no mystery as to why he bought its mining rights. Utah Construction's geologists and engineers knew back in the '60s that the land holds some of the best hard rock for road building in the entire Bay Area. There's an estimated billion cubic yards of it there, and once the mine is open, it is expected to produce more construction aggregate than all the county's other working quarries combined. Although DeSilva has had his county permit in hand since the '80s, he's delayed the Apperson Ridge quarry for financial reasons. "It's going to require significant capital to bring it online," explained Jazdzewski, referring to the five-mile road and prohibitive startup costs for a mining operation. "It's one of those things where you have to sharpen your pencil to see if you're going to get your return on your investment."

DeSilva would certainly feel more confident about the mine's profit potential if he knew a steady stream of Bay Area road projects were coming down the pike. That's where his old pal Don Perata figures in. For more than a year, the Oakland Democrat has been pushing for a multibillion-dollar state infrastructure bond, much of which would be earmarked for road construction. Thirteen months ago, Perata launched a campaign committee, Rebuilding California, with the goal of putting a $10 billion infrastructure measure to state voters. The committee has raised $1.13 million so far — DeSilva cut a $25,000 check last October.

Over the past few months, Perata and other legislative leaders have been trying to hammer out a bond deal with Governor Schwarzenegger. The governor also supports a massive infrastructure rebuilding effort, as do a majority of Californians, according to several recent polls. While an attempt failed to get a measure on the June ballot, a bond deal could be ready in time for the November election. If such a measure passes, DeSilva will likely have all the incentive he needs to rip the top off Apperson Ridge.


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