City plans to be ‘front and center’ in Cemex fight

The sunset is reflected in a pool of water at the proposed Cemex mining site in Canyon Country. Dan Watson/The Signal
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A decision this week by the State Water Resources Control Board puts Santa Clarita at the “front and center” of the effort to try and stop what’s been described as the nation’s second-largest aggregate mine from being put in the city’s backyard, officials said Friday. 

A letter sent Thursday afternoon obtained by The Signal alerted Cemex that its application seeking a beneficial use permit for the Santa Clara River is being re-noticed, which triggers a process for the state water board, according to an email from water officials. 

The Mexican-based international mining company garnered permission from a federal court in May of last year to pursue a pair of 30-year-old contracts it has for mining sand and gravel in Soledad Cayon. 

Cemex has not responded to multiple requests for comment regarding its plans as of this story’s publication. 

The mine’s efforts have been targeted by the city for decades. In the years since the contracts were awarded, there have been a number of efforts by local, state and even federal legislators that have successfully slowed the mine, including an agreement with the mining company itself — but not stopped it altogether. 

However, a relatively recent court decision regarding Cemex’s contracts and notice from the state board that it could continue its application for permits have once again raised local concerns. 

“The state water board has not determined whether to hold a hearing regarding the Cemex water right permit application,” according to an email from Ailene Voisin, who works in the board’s Office of Public Affairs. “The next step in processing the application is to re-notice the application. The noticing period, once commenced, will be a 40-day period where the public has an opportunity to file protests against the application. While the date of re-notice has not yet been determined, it will likely occur in the next several months.” 

While local and state officials were happy for the opportunity, Masis Hagobian, the city’s intergovernmental relations officer, said Friday that the water board agreeing with Santa Clarita’s view that the public deserves a chance to protest Cemex’s plans is just the first step. 

“The real work is what comes next for us,” Hagobian said. “It’s no secret that we will be front and center in the process and submitting all of the information that needs to be submitted to demonstrate the unsuitability of the proposed project.” 

The time and scheduling of what happens next is dependent on a number of factors, including the next steps taken by Cemex, according to Voisin. 

“Hearings on water right permit applications generally occur as a final step in processing of an application,” she wrote. “The processing time for water right permit applications is highly variable depending on a number of factors. Since each water right permit application is unique, we cannot provide an average length of time for an approval process.” 

The process started again with Thursday’s notification, a follow-up to a 2019 notice from the water board, which let Cemex know the process was no longer on hold. 

“The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on the merits on Sept. 15, 2021, and entered an order on remedy on May 25, 2022,” according to Thursday’s letter. “The court’s May 2022 order vacated both the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals’ decision and the underlying Bureau of Land Management decision to cancel Cemex Inc.’s mining contracts. Via this letter, I am informing you that the Division is resuming staff processing efforts on the application.” 

Regardless, the local and state officials who have helped fight the mine for decades are happy for the opportunity to once again express their concerns. 

As City Councilwoman Laurene Weste said Friday, a lot has changed since the mining company was first issued the contracts. 

“This is an extremely valuable and viable opportunity for the public,” Weste said, calling it probably one of the most important things that can happen in this valley. 

“We need our groundwater and (the Santa Clara River) has got to be protected,” she added, “so I am thrilled at them for allowing the public an opportunity to evaluate and look at all the impacts that exist in this current timeframe.” 

Members of the public can sign up for email notification of water right application notices by going to: 

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