By The Signal Editorial Board
After we broke the news last week that Cemex had filed a lawsuit seeking to restore its federal contracts for sand and gravel mining in Soledad Canyon, a few logical followup questions came up.
Among them: The lawsuit was filed in May. Why didn’t the community know sooner? And why, over the past few months, whenever a reporter asked a governmental official if there was anything new on Cemex, the answer was, “Nope. Nothing new.”
It took a tip from a non-government source to find out the lawsuit had been filed in federal court, where Cemex seeks reversal of the Bureau of Land Management’s 2015 decision to cancel the mining contracts. Cemex also seeks to set aside the March ruling by the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which upheld BLM cancellation of one contract and determined the remaining contract expires in 2020, leaving Cemex too little time to start mining.
When the IBLA ruling was handed down, local government officials shouted from the rooftops about it. A celebratory press conference was held in which Santa Clarita city officials and Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, basked in the glow of the victory, taking credit for, once and for all, slaying the Cemex beast. Except it wasn’t quite slain yet.
Cemex still had the courts as a potential option, and the May 1 lawsuit is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the 20-year battle to prevent Cemex from mining 56.1 million tons of aggregate just outside Santa Clarita’s eastern border.
Mine opponents correctly fear the impacts would be devastating. Air quality, water supplies, traffic, the environment — all would suffer.
So, when we found out the lawsuit had been filed and not a peep had been said about it locally for three months, we asked: Why?
The answers at once make sense, and don’t. They went something like this:
“We didn’t know about it until July.”
“It wasn’t our place to announce it.”
“The city isn’t a party to the lawsuit so we are staying on the sidelines.”
“Cemex isn’t really saying anything new in the lawsuit.”
It’s been… weird, especially in light of how “public” this long-running battle has been. It does make sense that the city isn’t getting directly involved, because it’s not a party in the lawsuit. But there seems to be almost a forced sense of complacency about it and, if nothing else, it’s odd that three months would pass before the city, or Hill’s office, would find out. If you think none of our local leaders are plugged in to this issue, we have a bridge to sell you. Once they did find out, shouldn’t someone have said something?
To be fair, it seems like the community isn’t as worked up about Cemex as it was 20 years ago when the battle started. But that’s a mistake, too. If you live on the west side of town and think the mine wouldn’t affect you because it’s on the east side, think again, and imagine the Santa Ana winds blowing fine particulate matter across the valley. On the up side, car washes would thrive. But anyone or any thing that breathes would suffer.
So long as there remains a smidgen of a chance that the mine will come to pass, our collective vigilance — by the community, this news organization and our government leaders — is essential.
What’s transpired the past couple of weeks hasn’t exactly sent that message. If nothing else, it was a study in stark contrasts: the shouting from the rooftops in March, when there was a victory to declare, and the crickets in August, three months after Cemex filed its lawsuit.
Take none of this to mean we believe our city or elected officials are rolling over on the issue. We are confident they are not. Actually, we tend to believe the silence and passivity is a strategic posture.
But by the same token, we don’t think it’s unreasonable for those fighting on the community’s behalf to act in the spirit of transparency — and keep the community abreast of the latest developments.
Hopefully, soon that will mean a final nail in the coffin for Cemex’s Soledad Canyon plans. There’s scuttlebutt the lawsuit is destined to be settled. That may be, and who knows how much it may cost.
Now that we know the lawsuit exists, we will be monitoring its progress. As soon as we know of any new developments, we will share them — and we hope our government officials will do the same.