Scott Wilk: Mine requires 2nd look

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An open-top tractor-trailer motors down the Highway 14 freeway. Gravel, piled high in back, ricochets off the pavement as the tractor bounces down the bumpy highway, losing bits of sand and rock at every turn.

Imagine driving the car behind this rig; chunks of gravel smack your windshield, dust fills the cab. You’d quickly change lanes, right?

Now imagine there are 1,200 trucks identical to this one. Every day. Year-round.

This is the nightmare for those of us who use these roads to get to work and back each day, for those of us who care about our environment, and for those of us who live in the area of the proposed Soledad Canyon “mega-mine” that would pull more than 56 million tons of rock, sand and gravel from the ground.

A nightmare I aim to awaken us all from with my new bill – Senate Bill 57.

The proposed mining project is worse than reckless; it is a negligent attack on the quality of life for local residents.

With total disregard for the environmental impact, the intensive semi-truck traffic on an already-overworked Highway 14, or the countless other issues this mine would cause, Cemex has continued to push for the project’s approval.

Affected residents in the area have opposed the mining project since it was initiated back in 1990. But the mine’s developers cared not. They offered no opportunity for public input, or for mitigation of environmental, health and other negative impacts of the mine.

That’s why, in my first act as a state Senator, I introduced Senate Bill 57. The bill, co-authored by my colleagues – Assemblymen Tom Lackey and Dante Acosta – will reopen public comment on permits relating to the mine.

While not a cure-all solution to this very serious threat, the bill is a step in the right direction toward giving the public the input they deserve. Input they have long been deprived of.

After a 25-year battle, a landmark 2015 decision by the Bureau of Land Management – the federal entity in charge of mining rights at Soledad Canyon – seemed to crush the planned mine when it canceled the mining contract for the site.

Residents rejoiced as local news headlines called the mine “Dead” and “Shut Down Once and for All.” But it turns out those proclamations were a bit premature.

Cemex filed two appeals with the federal Department of the Interior, and a final decision could be imminent. This is why, as federal regulators work out the appeals process, I’ve started – through SB 57 – to fight the project from another angle, at the state level.

The mega-mine’s impact will extend beyond air quality, runoff, noise, traffic, dust and debris; it will also be a huge drain on already-depleted water supplies.

Way back in 1991, the site’s previous owner filed an application with the California Water Resources Control Board for a water-use permit. The application requested about 105 million gallons of water per year from the Santa Clara River for use in its mining operations.

The application has languished since the ‘90s and no determination has been made. But if Cemex wins its federal appeals, the agency will have left the door open for the resurgence of the mega-mine.

My new bill aims to provide people with an avenue to express their opposition to this disastrous project.

By reopening public comment we can, hopefully, convince the Water Board to deny the application filed all that time ago by pointing to the changing landscape of our depleted and complex water supply.

Back in 1991, public protest and comments were accepted from the Water Board. But in the 25 years since, Santa Clarita has blossomed into the third largest city in L.A. County.

Some 100,000 cars travel the Highway 14 freeway every day, and water has become an incredibly scarce commodity.

Based on these facts, the people deserve a second “bite at the apple” in conveying the demerits of the project to the Water Board.

The recent BLM decision was hugely important, but it didn’t end this fight. That’s why it is so important we do all we can on the state level, as well as federally.

Hopefully, the Department of Interior will rule against the Cemex mega-mine project. But if Cemex prevails, our community deserves its own “appeals process” by demonstrating the ill effect the mega-mine would have on our traffic, air quality, water quality – and our windshields.

Scott Wilk is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and represents the 21st Senate District, which includes the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys.

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