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Aisle-crossing solutions

Posted: May 7, 2010 7:32 p.m.
Updated: May 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Nearly 20 years ago, federal officials approved an aggregate mine in Santa Clarita’s Soledad Canyon. A lot has changed since then.

Our valley has grown, our neighborhoods, parks and bike trails have emerged, and more schools have been built. A decision made two decades ago is simply incompatible with our communities now, and poses serious threats to our residents’ public health and quality of life.

Our commentary isn’t about the fight however; it’s about a community that united, and how diverse interests crafted a unique resolution to a decades-long dispute. After several years of conversations with stakeholders, we are on the cusp of an uncommon compromise that will permanently end the threat of a 56 million ton sand-and-gravel mine in our region.

However, nothing comes easy. In order for the compromise to become effective, Congress must approve federal legislation that will resolve the dispute.  Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have united and introduced a bipartisan solution — the Soledad Canyon High Desert, California Public Lands Conservation and Management Act of 2009; HR4332 in the House and SB3057 in the Senate.

This legislation will require the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to prohibit mining at the Soledad Canyon site. It will fairly compensate the mine operator CEMEX USA for the cancellation of its mining contracts, and potentially provide for the acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands in Southern California.

Carefully crafted in concert with members of the environmental and business communities, as well as local residents and stakeholders, the legislation immediately gained bipartisan support, and HR4332 has been co-authored by a number of McKeon’s Democratic colleagues, including representatives Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, and Dale Kildee, D-Mich.

It is important to recognize that CEMEX is putting forth an unprecedented effort to work with the city of Santa Clarita and the community in resolving this issue.  

By using revenue obtained from selling federal lands near Victorville that are already on the BLM’s “disposal list,” CEMEX will be compensated for the fair-market value of its canceled mining contracts.

Any additional revenue obtained from the sale of the lands could then be used to acquire environmentally sensitive lands, resulting in wide-scale benefits to the entire region.

Those land purchases may include linking the northern and southern segments of the Angeles National Forest — a critical open space and wildlife conservation effort. This financial process has been used successfully for more than two decades as a way to ensure land transaction legislation is fiscally responsible.

The significance of the federal legislation goes farther than our region. The Victorville area will receive an economic boost during these tough economic times, with an opportunity for much-needed economic development on the land that is sold in its area.

The Los Angeles region will no longer have to look at potential issues like air quality, transportation and proper reclamation if mining were to go forward here. This is a huge win for our community and neighbors.

This legislation has received a tremendous outpouring of support from a diverse group of interests.

Republicans, Democrats, business advocates, environmental organizations and community leaders have all joined together to call for the passage of these measures.

Current supporters include the SCV Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Now, Endangered Habitats League, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, SAFE and Friends of the Santa Clara River.

Additionally, the cities of Glendale, Palmdale and Victorville stand in solidarity with Santa Clarita.

This win-win solution is a solid example of how government, community groups and the private sector can work collaboratively to effectively solve a longstanding problem.

These bills are an excellent opportunity for our counterparts in Washington, D.C., to join our local bipartisan effort and move these measures forward through the tedious and difficult legislative process.

Amid the highly partisan and often gridlocked Washington environment, this legislation is a testament of the winning results working together can achieve for the benefit of our constituents.

Mayor Laurene Weste and City Councilman Bob Kellar are Santa Clarita residents. Their column reflects their own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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