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Cemex to extend talks

Though deadline has passed, mining company officials say they want to keep communication open

Posted: March 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
 


Although the deadline to begin mining in Soledad Canyon has come and gone, the firm that holds federal contracts to do so has agreed to more talks, hoping proposed legislation will solve the impasse.

Mike Murphy, intergovernmental relations officer for the city of Santa Clarita, said representatives for the Mexican mining company
Cemex want to keep talking even though the unofficial year-end deadline they gave for such talks has come and gone.

“We’ve been talking and, verbally, they’ve said they will extend talks for another 60 days,” Murphy said.

Cemex had already extended talks into the new year by giving all concerned parties until the end of March to come up with a solution, he said.

Cemex has Bureau of Land Management contracts to open a 56 million ton sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.

City officials have opposed the mine, saying it will compromise air quality in the Santa Clarita Valley and add tremendous truck traffic to the Highway 14 freeway.

Cemex officials keep extending talks because they still believe a bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is the best solution.

“Cemex continues to fully support the Boxer legislation and has participated in ongoing discussions with the city throughout this process,” Cemex spokeswoman Sara Engdahl said.

“Cemex is committed to keeping the lines of communication open with the city in hopes of finding a mutually beneficial solution, such as the Boxer legislation.”

Boxer’s bill would instruct the federal government to sell 10,000 acres of federally owned land outside Victorville.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale would be used to buy back contracts the Bureau of Land Management granted to Cemex more than 20 years ago.

Cemex wants the Boxer bill passed.

The city of Santa Clarita wants the bill passed.

Election candidates and other public figures speaking on behalf of constituents in Canyon Country and Sand Canyon want the bill passed.

Environmentalists want the bill passed; local activists are “trying to ask people to let Boxer know we support her bill,” said local Sierra Club spokeswoman Sandra Cattell.

The problem, according to Washington liaisons, is the “gridlock” of bills — like the Boxer bill — jamming up in the Senate, all vying for attention at election time.

Gridlock

Since at least 2004, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, has proposed congressional legislation to block the Cemex mine by banning mining in Soledad Canyon. None has passed.

A year ago, blaming prohibitive new anti-earmark rules, the Santa Clarita Valley’s congressman said he will not introduce a new bill to ban the mine.

Since then, all hope in the stop-the-mine camp has shifted to the Senate bill drafted by Barbara Boxer.

Boxer introduced Senate Bill S3057, or the Soledad Canyon High Desert, California Public Lands Conservation and Management Act, two years ago.

Cemex and Santa Clarita officials said publicly they hoped the bill would receive Senate approval by the end of last year.

That did not happen.

She introduced the bill again during the current congressional session. But because it’s an election year, the situation in Washington has shifted, Murphy said.

“A lot of the dynamics in Washington are causing gridlock,” he said. “However, there is some indication the log jam of (proposed) bills my be breaking up.”

Matt Kirby, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club, also works in Washington. Part of his job is to promote environmental issues identified as priorities by the national club.

The issue of Cemex, he said last week, has moved to the top of the Sierra Club’s list of priorities.

“This (Boxer) legislation should be a win-win for everyone,” he said. “But what we have is gridlock with everyone trying to get their
bills through.

“The problem in Washington is that it’s a big, lumbering entity these days,” he said.

And while Cemex pins its hopes on the Senate putting through the Boxer bill, it is quietly gathering state and local permits to begin mining.

“They have all the authority they need to start mining tomorrow if they wanted,” Murphy said.

“But if they do move forward with the mine, they want to go through the regular local permit process,” he said. “It’s a matter of building some good will.”

Permission to mine

Cemex purchased mining contracts from the Bureau of Land Management in 1990 to open the proposed 56 million ton sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.

Under the Boxer bill, if Cemex abandons the Soledad Canyon mine, it will be compensated through the sale of three specific tracts of land north of Victorville and just west of Interstate 15.

The land is owned by the federal government, managed by the BLM and deemed “surplus land” already identified as disposable.

The bill would direct the U.S. secretary of the interior to call for the sale of each of the three blocks of land. Proceeds would be deposited into a federal Treasury bank account and set aside to pay the first contract holder, which is Cemex.

If the lands sell for $100 million, for example, Cemex would be paid about $40 million, according to Murphy, and the balance of $60 million would be left to the federal government, available to pay for any additional administrative costs.

“Their attitude right now is, ‘Rather than have a hard and fast date to come up with a solution, let’s go a little while longer and see what happens,” Murphy said.

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