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UPDATED: Round six in Cemex battle

Legislation would keep Cemex sand and gravel mine out of SCV

Posted: December 16, 2009 12:39 p.m.
Updated: December 17, 2009 10:01 a.m.
 
The key to keeping a gargantuan sand-and-gravel mine out of the Santa Clarita Valley for good will be selling off 10,000-plus acres near Victorville to compensate cement giant Cemex, Inc. for the loss of its two mining contracts.

Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon on Wednesday introduced his sixth bill aimed at keeping the mine out of Soledad Canyon.

The announcement came nearly a year after McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, said the bill was forthcoming within one to two months.

Since 1999, Santa Clarita has spent millions in legal fees - and McKeon has so far introduced five unsuccessful bills - to fight Cemex Inc.'s planned mine.

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.

McKeon's bill - HR 4332 - calls for the Secretary of the Interior to cancel Cemex's mining contracts, and for the BLM to sell 10,269 acres it owns near Victorville to compensate Cemex.

"Probably the largest single change you're seeing is the way compensation to Cemex is handled," said Mike Murphy, Santa Clarita's intergovernmental relations officer. "(McKeon) listened very carefully to the concerns that groups and individuals expressed about (the previous bill)."

The land was already on the BLM's disposal list, Murphy said. McKeon's bill would accelerate the timeline to sell off the undeveloped property.

McKeon's previous bill would have, in effect, swapped the proposed Soledad Canyon site for the land in Victorville, where Cemex already has a cement plant.

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

The tide turned in February 2007 when Santa Clarita and Cemex declared a truce, with the city standing down from its opposition and Cemex halting any further permit pursuits.

Since then, the two parties have worked together with McKeon's office to arrive at some sort of conclusion.

The road to solving the Cemex problem has been paved with details, McKeon's spokeswoman Lindsey Mask said.

"It's so much about the technical language. It's a long process especially when you have a variety of people involved," she said Wednesday.

In addition having Santa Clarita and Cemex officials on board, McKeon's office has also worked with the city of Victorville and San Bernardino County.

Mask said she does not foresee the BLM having to find a buyer for thousands of acres as a major hurdle.

The bill won support from Cemex.

In a Wednesday news release, Cemex USA President Gilberto Perez said: "We're pleased Congressman McKeon has once again taken a leadership role in advancing legislation that offers a positive solution. ... We are eager to work with the congressman, California's senators, the city of Santa Clarita and others in pursuing its success in 2010."

Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar had a one-word response to Wednesday's news: "Hallelujah."

Kellar estimated he has made about a dozen trips to Washington, D.C. to rally support for McKeon's bills. He said he believes this latest incarnation has what it takes to succeed.

"I sincerely think it's a very good bill," he said. "Let's hope that partisan politics does not come into this issue."

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