Two Santa Clarita City Council members recently returned from Washington, D.C., after their first discussion with President Trump’s administration regarding a top concern for the city—the ongoing fight against the proposed Cemex gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.
Mayor Laurene Weste and Councilman Bob Kellar, along with Mike Murphy, the city’s intergovernmental relations manager, spoke with the Department of the Interior’s new deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, on the community’s opposition to the mining project planned by Cemex.
This was the first time council members had discussed the project with the Department of the Interior since Bernhardt began his term in July 2017, Murphy said.
The company behind the mine project proposed almost three decades ago is in the midst of a lawsuit with the city of Santa Clarita, claiming breach of contract and civil rights violations, among other allegations.
The litigation is the latest stage in a long-running conflict between the city and Cemex regarding the two 10-year contracts, originally approved in 1990, that would allow Cemex to extract 56 million tons of sand and gravel from Soledad Canyon.
The lawsuit was filed in December in response to city plans to annex the site in Soledad Canyon on the city’s eastern border.
Santa Clarita’s Planning Commission in December was reviewing the proposed annexation of 2,694.4 acres that included nearly all of the mine site. The city did not notify Cemex or the Bureau of Land Management, according to the lawsuit.
“After the contracts were signed (in 1990), the city began what would prove to be a multimillion-dollar, decades-long campaign to obstruct, interfere with, and otherwise oppose the Soledad Canyon Project,” the lawsuit stated.
In June, updated plans for the Eastside Open Space Annexation were presented to the commission. The revised plan included the same land from the December meeting, minus Cemex’s proposed project site. The current annexation eliminates 459 acres of that open space area.
The fate of the mine project is in the hands of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, which decided in August 2015 to cancel Cemex’s Soledad Canyon contracts due to non-operation.
Cemex filed an appeal of the cancellation in September 2015 to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which determines if the Department of the Interior’s decisions are valid.
IBLA officials did not return a request for comment Wednesday on the status of the appeal.
The city of Santa Clarita is not involved in that process, Murphy said. Although the city owns the “surface estate” of the Soledad Canyon land, the BLM owns the “mineral estate,” so the BLM and Cemex are the only parties involved in the operating contract decision.
A representative from the Department of the Interior told the city over a year ago that the BLM and Cemex had submitted all of their legal arguments so the board could make a decision, but no information has been made available since, Murphy said.
Federal prohibition of future mining
In March, wording designed to prohibit future mining in Soledad Canyon was included in the federal Omnibus spending bill authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and supported by Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale. The bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump, including the language that precludes any mining operations in Soledad Canyon upon the conclusion or termination of existing contracts.
While the bill would not have any impact on the existing 20-year contracts, it would put a stop to future mining activities beyond that.
A bipartisan coalition of legislators has formed in opposition to the potential mine: Assemblymen Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, and Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale; Sens. Scott Wilk, R-Antelope Valley, and Henry Stern, D-Calabasas; Reps. Knight, Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, Brad Sherman, D-Van Nuys; and Adam Schiff, D-Burbank.
Knight previously introduced H.R. 4566, known as the Soledad Canyon Consistency Act, in February 2016 to block the mine. It was reintroduced in March 2017 as H.R. 1557, but was not put to a vote in the House.
The mining issue remains Knight’s top district priority, the congressman’s office said Wednesday.
“Rep. Knight was not a participant in the meeting with Deputy Secretary Bernhardt, but met with Mayor Laurene Weste, Councilman Bob Kellar and others prior to their meeting at the Department of Interior,” said Knight spokesman Chris Jusuf. “This issue continues to be a top priority for Congressman Knight, and he will continue to work hand in hand with local leaders to achieve the end goal of preventing Cemex from mining in Soledad Canyon.”
Murphy spoke at the City Council meeting on Tuesday to reiterate the issue’s importance.
“For the benefit of the community, the council has remained strong on this issue and continues to remain so,” Murphy said.
“This is a very important issue to the valley,” Weste said. “And even if it’s in the hands of the courts, it’s important for due process to meet with all agencies and be face to face, with how this is being handled.”
The Cemex lawsuit can be viewed here.