By Scott Wilk
Senator, 21st District
The Cemex mine, the proposed mega-mining operation slated for our back yard, would be the second largest aggregate mine in the country. For those of us who live in the Santa Clarita Valley, it is one of the biggest threats to our local environment and will upend traffic on Highway 14.
For decades, we have fought the opening of the mine, but despite our local opposition, congressional and state actions, and opposition from just about everyone but the folks at Cemex, the project is still very much alive.
Thirty years ago, when Santa Clarita Valley was home to only 132,000 citizens, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued two 10-year contracts to mine 56 million tons of aggregate from a site near Soledad Canyon Road and the 14 Freeway. Transit Mixed Concrete (TMC) filed an application with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to appropriate 322 acre-feet per year of water from the Santa Clara River for use at the mining site. Through the years, there have been a number of owners, but the current owner is Cemex – a Mexican mining company.
For those of us who live in the Santa Clarita Valley, this mega mine was a horrible idea 30 years ago, and with a population today soon to be almost half a million people, the mine is even a worse idea now.
The daily operation would result in 18-wheelers and gravel trucks entering and departing from the mine every two minutes, which would put an additional 1,200 trucks to our local roads every day. The dust created by the mine would exceed acceptable levels by nearly 200%, greatly harming our air quality.
During the now almost three decades-long application process, a significant number of issues have arisen.
• First: water. It is the scarcest commodity in California, and this mine has the permits to pull huge amounts of it from the Santa Clara River. The Santa Clara River is the last natural river in Southern California, and communities from Agua Dulce to Ventura depend on its preservation.
• Additionally, there are efforts to expand the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument farther into the Santa Clarita Valley, and the mega mine would affect that federal government decision.
• Finally, how can we ignore the growing population of the city of Santa Clarita? It has almost doubled in the years since the mine was proposed, and according to the Southern California Association of Governments, by 2030 our valley will have climbed to more than 550,000 residents.
A recent decision by the Interior Board of Land Appeals essentially meant Cemex had no time to proceed under the period left on its mining contracts. A victory for sure — but to ensure the decades-long struggle does come to an end, I have been working with the city of Santa Clarita on legislation that would require a second look at the project’s water applications.
In 1991, when the application to draw water from the Santa Clara River was initially submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), no hearing was held and no public comment taken. Existing law requires the publication of a notice of application to appropriate water and allows for public comment/protest be filed within a certain time period. While the SWRCB has essentially suspended activity on the current application, the status of it is still considered active, which is what I am trying to address with Senate Bill 797.
SB 797 would prevent bureaucrats from rubber-stamping decades-old applications without public review. It would require water applications that have not been acted upon within 30 years of their original filing date to go through the notification process again. This second look at previously approved applications would reopen the protest period and any other administrative processes, as if it were the first time around for the application.
The mega-mine is a serious threat to our quality of life. This bill, while not a cure-all solution, ensures the public has the opportunity to provide input in projects — such as Cemex — that have languished for decades but will greatly affect a community.
Although I believed the mega-mine was a horrible fit for the SCV from the get-go, today it is an even worse idea. Consider our vastly expanded population, a precarious water supply and environmental concerns ranging from traffic congestion to air quality, and it is not hard to see the importance of using every tool in the box to put a stop to this mine.
Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, represents the 21st Senate District, which encompasses the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys.