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A long slow grind for gravel

Development: If legislation fails, residents could see a mine in as little as two years — or as man

Posted: October 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Mining giant Cemex has contracts and permits from the federal government and most county agencies to proceed with a mine in Soledad Canyon, but a string of secondary permits and stamps of approval would be required before the mine could go online.

The process could take as little as two years — or as many as 20, experts say.

Cemex officials said last week they continue to stand by the plan for a legislative solution to the proposed mine, for which they’ve held federal contracts for 20 years.

But Santa Clarita city officials say the company plans to move ahead on the sand-and-gravel mine if a bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., doesn’t make progress this year.

The bill, which proposes a land swap in lieu of the mine, has not yet been heard in committee, and no companion bill is being carried in the House of Representatives.

A legislative expert says it has little chance of succeeding this year.

City officials and local residents have long battled the planned mine, which they say would burden Highway 14 with truck traffic and compromise air quality in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Should Cemex move ahead with the mine, it would need permits and approvals from a number of governmental agencies, a process that could take 12 to 18 months, said Mike Murphy, the city’s intergovernmental affairs officer.

“That’s the time frame we have estimated, and (Cemex officials) have not contested it,” Murphy said. “It could slow down. It depends on how staff responds to community input.”

Other officials gave longer estimates.

According to Bureau of Land Management documents filed in 2000, Cemex would need permits from the county’s Health Department, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state Water Resources Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state’s Department of Fish and Game.

The state’s Mines and Geology Division would also need to review its county surface mining permit and reclamation plan, the record states.

Once permits are gained, Cemex could begin mining “within a year or two years,” an industry expert said Friday.
“Usually, there’s a plant or processing area they have to build,” said Charles Rea, a spokesman with the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association. Getting a mine up and running has taken other mining companies anywhere from two to 20 years, Rea said.

The BLM’s Record of Decision approving the Cemex mine site specifies that mines can take between six and nine years to come online.

“The BLM approved the Soledad Project and signed the (Record of Decision) in August 2000, more than 11 years ago,” BLM spokesman Doran Sanchez said in an email.

“The 6- to 9-year estimate was the estimated time frame to complete the environmental analysis ... and for the company to obtain necessary county permits.”

“This time frame does not address potential delays resulting from protests, appeals and litigation,” Sanchez said.
All the county permits have been secured except for a hazardous materials handler permit from the county Health Department.

The BLM’s own environmental impact statement and the county’s environmental impact review have been completed.
A Cemex spokeswoman wouldn’t address the process it would take to move forward with the Soledad Canyon mining site.
“At this time, Cemex remains committed to working closely with Sen. Boxer’s staff to secure a hearing on the bill this fall,” Cemex spokeswoman Sara Engdahl said in an email.

“Until then, our focus remains on making forward progress on the bill in partnership with the city of Santa Clarita.”
The city of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County and several other agencies have fought to stop the mine proposed for nearly 500 acres of land, south of Highway 14 and north of Soledad Canyon Road, in northeastern Canyon Country.

That’s about a mile east of the Stonecrest community, and about three miles east of College of the Canyons’ Canyon Country campus.

A contentious battle with Los Angeles County to gain its Surface Mining Permit and related environmental review ended in a court decision in Cemex’s favor in 2004.

The city and Cemex agreed to a truce in 2007 after the land-swap agreement was reached. But the deal requires congressional approval, and so far it has failed to gain that.

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