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Another shot at Cemex

Posted: May 31, 2009 10:17 p.m.
Updated: June 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon is gearing for round six as the final touches are made on a bill aimed at keeping a massive sand and gravel mine out of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Sometime this month McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, hopes to introduce the latest and sixth incarnation of the Soledad Canyon Mining Act. The bill would keep Mexico-based cement giant Cemex Inc. from setting up a multimillion-ton sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon, roughly a mile from Canyon Country.

The pending bill is a revision of legislation the congressman introduced last spring.

"We're close," said Bob Haueter, deputy chief of staff for McKeon. "We feel very confident that these changes will ensure we get support."

While Santa Clarita owns the roughly 100 acres in Soledad Canyon for which the mine is proposed, Cemex has mineral rights granted by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

City officials have opposed the mine because of concerns about air and water pollution, in addition to more traffic on local freeways from trucks going to and from the mine.

Introduced to Congress in April 2008, HR 5877 would have, in effect, swapped the proposed Soledad Canyon mine site for land in Victorville, where Cemex already operates a cement plant.

Under the agreement, Cemex would then sell the land to the city of Victorville or a private buyer to be used for purposes other than mining.

Haueter declined to discuss any of the changes in the new bill McKeon is introducing.

The proposed bill is being reviewed by officials from Santa Clarita, Victorville, Cemex and San Bernardino County. The latter recently approached McKeon's office about supporting the bill, Haueter said, and added: "We're very excited to have them."

Santa Clarita officials were hesitant to talk about specifics, but seemed hopeful.

"I think it's a very good bill," said Mike Murphy, the city's intergovernmental relations officer.

The city has spent millions since 1999 trying to keep Cemex out of the valley.

The tide shifted in early 2007 when Santa Clarita and Cemex declared a truce, aiming to work out an agreement.

That truce has been extended twice, and Murphy said the current extension lasts through Dec. 31.

"We're in regular contact with Cemex on the legislation, (and) everything we've heard from them has been very supportive," Murphy said.

Earlier this spring, Cemex spokeswoman Jennifer Borgen told The Signal: "We are very optimistic of the bill's chances and are fully focused on this effort."

A key to the bill's success, Murphy said, will be winning broad-based support.

He noted that a Congressional concern voiced in response to the bill's previous incarnation was the proposal to have the Bureau of Land Management transfer land to Cemex, and a question of how that would work.

As far as what city officials would like to see on the Soledad Canyon property, Murphy said that is not a conversation that's taken place yet.

"Our main focus has been on the legislation and trying to resolve the issue," he said.

Asked why McKeon has introduced five Cemex-related bills to no avail, Haueter said each one has been part of a learning process.

"Legislation isn't something that just happens in two years," he said. "Each time it was introduced we found things to adjust and change. We're in a better place (now) than before."

McKeon's pending bill won some support from the local environmental community.

"SCOPE definitely supports the concept of a solution that will prohibit mining in Santa Clarita," said Lynne Plambeck, president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. "The current slowdown in development gives us all a breather, to make sure we get a bill and a solution that will result in broad support."

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