Coun­cil mem­bers talk Ce­mex in Wash­ing­ton

Mayor Weste, Coun­cil­man Kel­lar spoke with De­part­ment of In­te­rior on op­po­si­tion to the min­ing project

The Signal - - FRONT PAGE - By Crys­tal Duan Sig­nal Staff Writer

Two Santa Clarita City Coun­cil mem­bers re­cently re­turned from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., af­ter their first dis­cus­sion with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­gard­ing a top con­cern for the city—the on­go­ing fight against the pro­posed Ce­mex gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.

Mayor Lau­rene Weste and Coun­cil­man Bob Kel­lar, along with Mike Mur­phy, the city’s in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions man­ager, spoke with the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior’s new deputy sec­re­tary, David Bern­hardt, on the com­mu­nity’s op­po­si­tion to the min­ing project planned by Ce­mex.

This was the first time coun­cil mem­bers had dis­cussed the project with the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior since Bern­hardt be­gan his term in July 2017, Mur­phy said.

His­tory

The com­pany be­hind the mine project pro­posed al­most three decades ago is in the midst of a law­suit with the city of Santa Clarita, claim­ing breach of con­tract and civil rights vi­o­la­tions, among other al­le­ga­tions.

The lit­i­ga­tion is the lat­est stage in a long-run­ning con­flict be­tween the city and Ce­mex re­gard­ing the two 10-year con­tracts, orig­i­nally approved in 1990, that would al­low Ce­mex to extract 56 mil­lion tons of sand and gravel from Soledad Canyon.

The law­suit was filed in De­cem­ber in re­sponse to city plans to an­nex the site in Soledad Canyon on the city’s east­ern border.

Santa Clarita’s Plan­ning Com­mis­sion in De­cem­ber was

re­view­ing the pro­posed an­nex­a­tion of 2,694.4 acres that in­cluded nearly all of the mine site. The city did not no­tify Ce­mex or the Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

“Af­ter the con­tracts were signed (in 1990), the city be­gan what would prove to be a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar, decades-long cam­paign to ob­struct, in­ter­fere with, and other­wise op­pose the Soledad Canyon Project,” the law­suit stated.

Wait­ing game

In June, up­dated plans for the East­side Open Space An­nex­a­tion were pre­sented to the com­mis­sion. The re­vised plan in­cluded the same land from the De­cem­ber meet­ing, mi­nus Ce­mex’s pro­posed project site. The cur­rent an­nex­a­tion elim­i­nates 459 acres of that open space area.

The fate of the mine project is in the hands of the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior’s Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment, or BLM, which de­cided in Au­gust 2015 to can­cel Ce­mex’s Soledad Canyon con­tracts due to non-op­er­a­tion.

Ce­mex filed an ap­peal of the can­cel­la­tion in Septem­ber 2015 to the In­te­rior Board of Land Ap­peals, which de­ter­mines if the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior’s de­ci­sions are valid.

IBLA of­fi­cials did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment Wed­nes­day on the sta­tus of the ap­peal.

The city of Santa Clarita is not in­volved in that process, Mur­phy said. Al­though the city owns the “sur­face es­tate” of the Soledad Canyon land, the BLM owns the “min­eral es­tate,” so the BLM and Ce­mex are the only par­ties in­volved in the op­er­at­ing con­tract de­ci­sion.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior told the city over a year ago that the BLM and Ce­mex had sub­mit­ted all of their le­gal ar­gu­ments so the board could make a de­ci­sion, but no in­for­ma­tion has been made avail­able since, Mur­phy said.

Fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion of fu­ture min­ing

In March, word­ing de­signed to pro­hibit fu­ture min­ing in Soledad Canyon was in­cluded in the fed­eral Om­nibus spend­ing bill authored by Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein and sup­ported by Rep. Steve Knight, RPalm­dale. The bill was signed into law by Pres­i­dent Trump, in­clud­ing the language that pre­cludes any min­ing op­er­a­tions in Soledad Canyon upon the con­clu­sion or ter­mi­na­tion of ex­ist­ing con­tracts.

While the bill would not have any im­pact on the ex­ist­ing 20year con­tracts, it would put a stop to fu­ture min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties be­yond that.

A bi­par­ti­san coalition of leg­is­la­tors has formed in op­po­si­tion to the po­ten­tial mine: As­sem­bly­men Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, and Tom Lackey, R-Palm­dale; Sens. Scott Wilk, R-An­te­lope Val­ley, and Henry Stern, D-Cal­abasas; Reps. Knight, Judy Chu, DMon­terey Park, Brad Sher­man, D-Van Nuys; and Adam Schiff, D-Bur­bank.

Knight pre­vi­ously in­tro­duced H.R. 4566, known as the Soledad Canyon Con­sis­tency Act, in Fe­bru­ary 2016 to block the mine. It was rein­tro­duced in March 2017 as H.R. 1557, but was not put to a vote in the House.

The min­ing is­sue re­mains Knight’s top dis­trict pri­or­ity, the con­gress­man’s of­fice said Wed­nes­day.

“Rep. Knight was not a par­tic­i­pant in the meet­ing with Deputy Sec­re­tary Bern­hardt, but met with Mayor Lau­rene Weste, Coun­cil­man Bob Kel­lar and oth­ers prior to their meet­ing at the De­part­ment of In­te­rior,” said Knight spokesman Chris Jusuf. “This is­sue con­tin­ues to be a top pri­or­ity for Con­gress­man Knight, and he will con­tinue to work hand in hand with lo­cal lead­ers to achieve the end goal of pre­vent­ing Ce­mex from min­ing in Soledad Canyon.”

City’s po­si­tion

Mur­phy spoke at the City Coun­cil meet­ing on Tues­day to re­it­er­ate the is­sue’s im­por­tance.

“For the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity, the coun­cil has re­mained strong on this is­sue and con­tin­ues to re­main so,” Mur­phy said.

“This is a very im­por­tant is­sue to the val­ley,” Weste said. “And even if it’s in the hands of the courts, it’s im­por­tant for due process to meet with all agen­cies and be face to face, with how this is be­ing han­dled.”

The Ce­mex law­suit can be viewed at sig­nalscv.com/pdf/ ce­mex.pdf.

Sig­nal file photos

(Top and be­low) Aban­doned equip­ment stands at the Ce­mex site in Canyon Coun­try. Mayor Lau­rene Weste and Coun­cil­man Bob Kel­lar, along with Mike Mur­phy, the city’s in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions man­ager, re­cently spoke with the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior’s new deputy sec­re­tary, David Bern­hardt, in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on the com­mu­nity’s op­po­si­tion to the min­ing project planned by Ce­mex.

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