City on Cemex: ‘We’re not done yet’

Santa Clarita City Councilmembers Laurene Weste, left, and Bob Kellar celebrate as they report on the decision about the Cemex Mine at a press conference held at Santa Clarita City Hall in Valencia in March 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

The fight is over — for the most part.

That’s the message that city of Santa Clarita officials and local dignitaries expressed Thursday over the Cemex ruling from the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

“After 20 years of fighting, we can finally say we believe there will not be a mega-mine in Soledad Canyon,” Councilwoman Laurene Weste said during a news conference at City Hall.  

In 1990, Cemex, one of the world’s largest building material companies, was issued contracts to mine 56 million tons of sand and gravel just outside Santa Clarita’s eastern border in Soledad Canyon. Since that time, the city has fought to prevent the work, spending at least $12.5 million.

The work would have added more than 1,000 daily truck trips to local streets and freeways. From an environmental standpoint, mining would have resulted in air quality issues and possible negative effects on wildlife and locations, such as the Santa Clara River and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, according to environmental groups and local government leaders.

Representative Katie Hill, left, and Santa Clarita City Councilmembers Laurene Weste chat after Hill and Weste spoke at a Cemex Mine press conference held at Santa Clarita City Hall in Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

In 2015, the Bureau of Land Management canceled the mining contracts for the area and Cemex appealed the ruling to the IBLA just a month after. Fast forward to Wednesday when the federal review board released its decision, indicating that the BLM cancellation is “affirmed in part, reversed in part, set aside in part, and case remanded.” The ruling also revealed that Cemex’s mining rights in Soledad Canyon do not expire until July 2020.

That’s the key point that local officials are holding on to.

“The contract, which would have allowed the mining of 56 million tons of gravel, has only 16 months left on it, meaning that it is essentially worthless,” said Weste, who is a Cemex City Council subcommittee member along with Councilman Bob Kellar.

Kellar said, “We’re not done, yet. We must continue to be vigilant in our efforts over the next 16 months until the contracts are fully extinguished.”

Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, who was also present during the news conference, said, “This isn’t over. We’re going to watch it the entire way and make sure that this follows through…”

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said there are some potential permits that Cemex would be required to obtain should they wish to mine during those 16 months. “I will be going back to Sacramento Monday, and I’ll be engaging with the state water control board and others to make sure those are not issued,” he said.

Council members highlighted the city’s efforts to stop Cemex, which included working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and former Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who put wording in a 2018 omnibus spending bill that prevents mining after the end or termination of contracts in place.

Jade Suh, a representative of Feinstein, read a statement from the senator: “I’ve been a strong supporter of the city’s efforts, and I’m extremely pleased that their battle is coming to a successful conclusion.”

Mike Murphy, the intergovernmental relations manager for the city, said the city has not communicated with Cemex since the decision was announced and “we don’t expect that we will. I think they need to figure out what is their next step. If they were to try and mine, they would need a variety of permits, which could take 16 to 18 months. They have no ability to get an extension to those contracts or to get new contracts.”

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