Reactions vary to Cemex decision

The city of Santa Clarita has been fighting the startup of mining on the city's edge by Cemex for decades. Jim Holt/The Signal

After a much-anticipated decision the Interior Board of Land Appeals reached Wednesday regarding the proposed Cemex sand and gravel mine, several current and former Santa Clarita Valley leaders in government, industry and activism voiced varying reactions.

The IBLA ruled that the Bureau of Land Management decision is “affirmed in part, reversed in part, set aside in part, and case remanded,” but those who have responded to the ruling say the main takeaway is that Cemex’s mining rights in Soledad Canyon will expire in July 2020 and that they may still appeal in federal court.

Here’s what they had to say:

Mayor Marsha McLean:

“This decision today is hopefully the culmination of what we’ve been fighting for years,” said McLean, who has opposed Cemex mining long before joining the City Council as a citizen activist.

“The environmental impact would be devastating not only to the Santa Clara River but to our air quality. If (Cemex) decides to appeal, I believe they can appeal. We’re hoping that will not happen but we will continue to do whatever is necessary so that our environment and the health of our residents are protected.”

Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth

“The ruling today was good news but we’ve invested so much that I don’t want the city to relax one bit until we know those contracts have expired and there’s no efforts to renew,” said Smyth, who has seen the city fight against one of the world’s largest cement producers since the late 1990s.

Developer Eric N. Rasmussen

“I think it’s a shame,” developer Eric N. Rasmussen, of Agoura Hills, said of the prospect that Cemex is likely not going to mine Soledad Canyon.

“It’s become such a hot-button issue,” he said. “We are all consumers of sand and gravel whether we like it not.

“There has been so much hypocrisy over this issue these past 30 years,” said Rasmussen, who studied at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

“This is the last deposit of sand and gravel in this area,” he said, noting the cost of gravel doubles with every 30 miles it travels from the mining operation.

Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce

“This was one of the first issues we started working on after being elected,” said Hill, who requested an expedited decision from IBLA via a letter Monday. “The fact that we got a decision today shows me that the bureaucratic process can be fast if we put pressure.”

“After being elected, I met with (city officials) and thought this is something we can help with. There’s no way that Cemex can continue to move forward in the next two years. This means that we’ve won.”

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita

“This is what happens when a community at all levels pulls together, and there were a lot of doubters on our ability to stop a multinational corporation that has a long reach in terms of influence in both Washington, D.C., and Sacramento.”

“Between today’s ruling and Steve Knight’s (language in the 2018 budget bill) that bars future mining — this mine is dead.”

Former Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale

“What we wanted was a positive decision that they weren’t going to get their appeal and I think that’s what we’re taking away from this.”

“The jurisdiction (for mining permits) would come under the Army Corps of Engineers and Cemex would have to go through the most extensive review imaginable, and between that and the legislation it puts them well behind the 8 ball on this.”

Howard “Buck” McKeon, former U.S. Rep. and Santa Clarita councilman

“Well, if anybody should be claiming victory, it should be Steve (Knight) because he did get that legislation passed after I retired.”

Andy Fried, president of nonprofit Safe Action For the Environment

“From a business perspective, I find it difficult to believe that Cemex will want to spend time and money to set up a mine that will operate for 16 months,” said Fried, who has been a vocal mine opponent during the two-decade-long battle. “I would suggest that while the ball is in Cemex’s court, I think that there are other options available to them.”

Allan Cameron, local activist and development consultant

“It’s critical to fully digest the complexity before we render a verdict,” Cameron said, adding that it’s important to confirm that all of Cemex’s legal options have been exhausted. “We need to diagnose this fully before we celebrate.”

Gail Morgan, former city communications manager

“This 20-year fight took City Council members to Washington, D.C., numerous times; it took millions of dollars and thousands of staff hours; but mostly, it took the determination of a community to stand up to an international corporation. Kudos to the city of Santa Clarita for leading this fight and for never giving up.”

Signal Managing Editor Perry Smith contributed to this report.

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Tammy Murga

Tammy Murga

Tammy Murga covers city hall and business for The Signal. She joined in the summer of 2018, previously working in Northern California as an assistant editor and reporter for the Lake County Record-Bee. In 2016, she graduated from Mount Saint Mary's University, Los Angeles. Have a story tip? Message her on Twitter or at [email protected]