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Cemex deadline expires

Posted: June 1, 2012 3:04 a.m.
Updated: June 1, 2012 3:04 a.m.

A five-year written “truce” between Santa Clarita and Cemex that staved off a major mine in Canyon Country expired Thursday, meaning the Mexican mining firm could move ahead with plans to haul millions of tons of sand and gravel out of Soledad Canyon.

“This is a game of chess, and this is checkmate,” city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said Thursday.

Cemex officials, however, say they’re not jumping to sink shovels into the ground immediately.

“At this point, the company is taking some time to look at all our options,” Cemex spokeswoman Sara Engdahl said Thursday.

“We still support a beneficial legislative solution,” she said. “Talks with the city (of Santa Clarita) are ongoing.”

Cemex won contracts to open the sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon some 20 years ago from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

But city officials, local school officials and other Santa Clarita Valley institutions and individuals objected to the mine, saying it would clog Highway 14 with gravel trucks and pollute Santa Clarita Valley air with particulates and other pollutants.

The contracts gave Cemex the right to remove 56 million tons of sand and gravel from the mine over 20 years.

For years, Cemex and the city were locked in battle over the mine’s opening.

Then a complicated agreement that would swap land near Victorville for the Soledad Canyon mine contracts was hammered out, and Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, introduced the agreement as proposed legislation.

The deal required congressional approval because it called on the government to sell federally owned land outside Victorville for the money to pay off Cemex for its contracts.

Since at least 2004, McKeon has proposed the congressional legislation, but it has never passed.

Meantime, the city and Cemex signed their truce.

“The understanding is that Cemex will not move forward on any (required) permits,” said Mike Murphy, intergovernmental relations officer for the city of Santa Clarita, “and that the city will not undertake any campaign to bash Cemex.”

Both the city and Cemex supported the McKeon legislative proposal.

But a year ago, blaming prohibitive new anti-earmark rules, McKeon said he will not introduce a new bill to ban the mine as long as the House rules were in place.

He could not be reached for comment on this story.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced a bill carrying the land swap proposal in the Senate during the current congressional session.

Cemex officials have said they’ll await the outcome of that bill.

“We need the people of Santa Clarita to reach out to their federal legislators for help,” Ortiz said Thursday. “We can no longer count on Cemex, because what’s in writing counts,” she said, referring to the expired truce.

Waning support?
A petition drafted by the group Safe Action for the Environment Inc. calls on residents opposed to the Cemex mine to sign a petition supporting Boxer’s bill.

“We have over 3,000 signatures,” group spokesman Andrew G. Fried said Thursday.

“The fact that Cemex has not extended (the truce) should light a fire under anybody opposed to the mine.”

“Our congressman has got to stop playing politics with this issue and do something,” he said.

But support for the land swap deal and Boxer’s bill may be waning in the High Desert.

In January, the Victorville City Council tabled its support, saying it needs more information on the bill.

Victorville Mayor Ryan McEachron told The Signal on Thursday that he’s not overly concerned about the prospect of Cemex acting on the promises spelled out in the Boxer bill.

For one thing, he said, Cemex already operates a plant in Victorville, and secondly, he’s heard from insiders that the Boxer bill has no supporters in Washington.

“I don’t see that moving forward,” he said.

“We (Victorville) were originally going to get involved in a workshop of sorts but, at the end of the day, it didn’t make any sense to through that exercise.

“I’ve talked to people who basically told me that the bill has no support.”

One High Desert environmental activist is urging residents to say “no” to the Cemex land swap.

“The original (proposed) proposition stipulated they would never mine in Victorville,” said Bob Conaway. “The latest proposition (from Boxer) doesn’t do that.

“There are water mitigation issues out here,” he said. “The Mojave River is drying up.”


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