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City Council endorses bills introduced by McKeon

• One addresses local wilderness preservation, the other deals with Cemex mining issue

Posted: June 16, 2008 1:39 a.m.
Updated: August 17, 2008 5:02 a.m.

This file photo from March shows the current Cemex mining operation on Soledad Canyon Road.

 
Two pieces of federal legislation aimed at protecting nearly 14,000 acres of local wilderness and resolving the decades-long dispute between the city of Santa Clarita and Cemex were officially endorsed by the city council this week, bringing both bills one step closer to enactment.

Created through a bipartisan congressional effort spearheaded by Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, both the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act and the Soledad Canyon Mine Act will have significant impact in the Santa Clarita Valley if approved.

Both bills, introduced by McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, in the U.S. House of Representatives, also have companion bills in the U.S. Senate, which were endorsed by Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

"I am pleased that after years of working with local leaders, wilderness activists and recreational enthusiasts, we finally have a practical solution to preserving the wild heritage of the 25th Congressional District," McKeon said about his proposed legislation that would protect approximately 14,000 acres of wilderness. "Most of us would like to have clean air, clean water and try to keep what wilderness we have so future generations could enjoy it."

The Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act, which would protect some of California's most pristine wild areas and expand local recreational opportunities, was officially endorsed Tuesday by the Santa Clarita City Council.

It was the second time that the council supported such a bill. In 2003, Boxer, D-Calif., introduced legislation to protect approximately
2.5 million acres of wilderness, including Magic Mountain in the Angeles National Forest. However, that bill failed due to the high volume of protected areas included in it.

On May 29, McKeon unveiled sweeping legislation designed to protect nearly 42,000 acres of regional wilderness. Unlike the legislation introduced in 2003, McKeon worked with Boxer to draft a bill that was more specific to the Angeles National Forest and the Santa Clarita Valley.

If the bill is passed and signed by the president, more than 40,000 acres of federal public land east of the Santa Clarita Valley, such as Magic Mountain and Pleasant View Ridge, will be given wilderness designations, the highest level of protection and conservation for federal lands.

The city council also supported House Resolution 5887, also known as the Soledad Canyon Mine Act. A companion to that bill, supported by Boxer and Feinstein, D-Calif., was also introduced in the Senate.

HR 5887 was introduced on the heels of lawsuit filed against Cemex for failure to install modern air pollution controls. Cemex, a Mexican corporation founded in 1906, claims it is the world's largest building material supplier and third largest cement producer. They proposed to build a sand and gravel mine in Santa Clarita in 1991.

Transit Mixed Concrete intended to begin a major mining operation after mineral rights to the property were granted. The operation would have removed 73 million tons of minerals over 20 years.

However, in 1999, the city of Santa Clarita took steps to prevent the mine operation from moving forward due to concerns about traffic, air quality and local economic impact. Starting that year, several steps were taken to halt the mega-mine from commencing operations.

Shortly thereafter, Transit Mixed Concrete was purchased by Cemex, which was followed by a series of failed negotiations between the city and the company to prevent the mine from being built.

Both sides finally agreed to negotiate a conclusive agreement in February 2007. Since 1999, the city has spent more than $8 million fighting the plans.

If passed and signed into law, the Soledad Canyon Mine Act would restrict Cemex from engaging in mining operations on its lands in Soledad Canyon. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior would be given the authority to cancel two consecutive 10-year mining contracts that would prevent Cemex from building a mine in the city of Santa Clarita.

The two contracts were originally signed with the Federal Bureau of Land Management, authorizing Cemex to mine up to 5 million tons of sand and gravel annually on 400 acres of land in Soledad Canyon.

If the legislation passes, Cemex would be given thousands of acres of BLM-controlled land in Victorville equivalent to the value of the contracts. Cemex would then be able to sell the land to the city of Victorville and other private buyers for purposes other than mining, which would constitute a separate agreement between those two parties.

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