UPDATE: Language in spending bill could impact Cemex decision

Abandoned equipment stands at the Cemex site in Canyon Country. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Wording in the Omnibus spending bill, signed by President Donald Trump on Friday, seeks to  end the decades-long fight over Soledad Canyon mining operations, according to Congressman Steve Knight’s’ office.

The language added to the spending bill signed into law Friday would preclude any mining operations in Soledad Canyon upon the conclusion or termination of existing contracts, according to Knight’s office.

However, much still hinges on how the federal Interior Board of Land Appeals will rule with respect to an ongoing appeal by Cemex, the international mining conglomerate that’s seeking to operate a “mega-mine” just east of city limits — namely, what is the proper status of the existing contracts.

Two mining contracts for Soledad Canyon — which have been canceled by the Bureau of Land Management — were originally awarded in 1990, and would allow Cemex to extract 56 million tons of sand and gravel from hundreds of acres in Soledad Canyon just outside of the city’s northeast border.

However, Cemex appealed the decision to cancel, and a decision on the appeal is expected in the coming months, according to Knight’s office.

The IBLA’s ruling on the current two mineral rights contracts would dictate just how significant Friday’s announcement is, officials said. The IBLA could uphold the BLM’s decision and end the issue permanently or, in what the city has called a “worst-case scenario,” deem the contracts valid for 20 more years.

The idea behind the Omnibus bill’s language looks at a third situation. If the IBLA rules the current contracts valid, SCV officials pointed to a previous ruling by the IBLA that could make Friday’s announcement all-important.

“Depending on what the IBLA ultimately determines, this withdrawal becomes very important,” said Mike Murphy, intergovernmental relations manager for the city of Santa Clarita. “It’s important regardless, but, for example, one of the things that IBLA said in an earlier ruling relative to Cemex’s request to stay the decision (that canceled the mine) was that the contracts began upon the issuance of the Record of Decision in 2000.”

That would mean mine operators would have about two valid years left for the mining rights, Murphy explained. And when those expire, there’s no more mining.

When contacted Friday, Murphy said the impetus for the language came from a meeting between then Mayor Bob Kellar, current Mayor Laurene Weste and Feinstein.

“This is an avenue that we’ve been looking at for sometime,” said Murphy. “This idea came directly out of meeting that Sen. Feinstein had with Bob Kellar and Laurene Weste in November 2016.”

When asked about the possibility of the contracts being declared valid for 20 years, based on what’s been said so far, Murphy said the city thinks “that’s highly unlikely.”

Perry Smith contributed to this report.

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