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CEMEX bill passes Assembly

Politics and government

Schiavo’s AB 1631, coauthored by Wilk, would require public review of Soledad mining plan 

By Signal Staff 

The state Assembly has passed a bill authored by Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, to give the Santa Clarita Valley community a voice in any attempts by the international mining company CEMEX to develop a massive sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon. 

Assembly Bill 1631, which has bipartisan support and is coauthored with state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, now moves to the Senate, according to a statement released by Schiavo’s office.  

The bill states that if the State Water Resources Control Board has not rendered a final determination on an application for a permit to appropriate water for uses, including mining, within 30 years from the date the application was filed, the board would be required to issue a new notice and provide an opportunity for protests before rendering a final determination, with specified exceptions. 

“The Santa Clarita Valley community works hard to protect our land, water and air quality,” Schiavo said in the release. “Mega mines like the proposed CEMEX project would reverse years of environmental protection progress and cause a great disturbance to the environment and our community. AB 1631 will give our community the voice they deserve.” 

The proposed CEMEX mine would draw water from the Santa Clara River, one of the last natural rivers in Southern California and an important resource for numerous surrounding communities including the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys, Schiavo’s statement said.  

The bill is similar to one introduced in the Senate in 2021 by Wilk. The bill passed the Senate but did not receive Assembly approval. 

Earlier this year, Wilk and Schiavo announced they would work together on the legislation in the current legislative session. 

Wilk said Tuesday that, if CEMEX were to attempt to move forward with the mine plan, AB 1631 would require either a public-comment period or a public hearing in the community before the state water board could issue the needed permits. Under current law, the water board could either choose to conduct such a review, or not, Wilk said. 

“This is a bipartisan solution to an outstanding issue that has plagued our community for 30 years,” Wilk said. “I am happy to be partnering with the assemblywoman on this effort. We’re just going to continue working together to get it on the governor’s desk.” 

“This critical piece of legislation will significantly improve the state’s review of long-pending and severely outdated water appropriation applications,” Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs said in the statement released by Schiavo’s office. “Assembly Bill 1631 strengthens public participation in this process and ensures that members of the public and community stakeholders have an opportunity to have their views presented and considered by the State Water Resources Control Board.” 

Gibbs added: “Additionally, this legislation is critical in protecting ground water, rivers and tributaries, and some of the state’s most iconic wildlife. I commend Assemblywoman Schiavo for introducing this legislation.”   

The city of Santa Clarita has opposed the CEMEX plan for the past several decades. Originally approved by the federal government in 1990, the mining company’s contracts would allow for the removal of up to 56 million tons of sand and gravel from a Soledad Canyon site just beyond Santa Clarita’s eastern boundaries.  

Critics of the plan have argued it would cause unacceptable impacts on air and water quality, wildlife, and traffic — with as many as 1,000 truck trips per day on local streets and highways — among other concerns.  

The Bureau of Land Management in 2015 canceled the CEMEX contracts, contending that the mining company had failed to meet the terms of the original agreement because it had not successfully begun mining on the site. The federal Interior Board of Land Appeals upheld the BLM decision in 2019, but CEMEX appealed that decision to federal court.  

A U.S. District Court ruled in CEMEX’s favor last year, vacating the decisions by the BLM and the IBLA, thus reinstating the contracts and raising the possibility that, after local officials had declared victory in the decades-long fight, the mine might yet be developed after all.  

But, the international corporation still is in need of a series of permits if it would like to mine Soledad Canyon, according to city officials. The mining company needs permits from a number of agencies at the state and county level as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, according to Masis Hagobian, the city’s intergovernmental relations officer. 

The city is a sponsor of AB 1631, and in addition to sponsoring the legislation, the City Council formally adopted a support position for the bill on March 14, Hagobian added. 

Hagobian also mentioned ongoing efforts on a pair of federal bills that support the city’s long-held position that Soledad Canyon is not a suitable place for the mine. A bill by Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, in the House, HR 2887, and a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the Senate, S. 1466, aim to expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. They are both awaiting debate in their respective houses. 

“I think our argument for over three decades now has been that this area is a critical wildlife corridor,” Hagobian said. “It has natural resources that should be protected and so that’s what this bill does.” 

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