| By Andrew Fried, SAFE President  |
May 4, 2014

You would think that a big push to develop a massive gravel mine would at least be backed up by one significant factor: The need for one.

As we’ve written previously, the proposed 56-million-ton CEMEX mine, just outside the City of Santa Clarita, would cause significant and irreversible impacts on the wildlife corridors in and around the Santa Clara River, and is a threat to the health, safety and welfare of thousands of Santa Clarita Valley residents.

It’s now clear that it’s also unnecessary.

That’s not just the opinion of those who oppose the mine because of its local impacts, including the City of Santa Clarita and our organization, Safe Action for the Environment Inc. It’s also the opinion of the State of California’s Natural Resources Agency, whose chief has endorsed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s bill, S. 771, cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The bill would cancel the CEMEX mining contracts and compensate the mining company via the sale of surplus lands near Victorville.

“This bill provides the City of Santa Clarita and CEMEX USA the path forward to successfully resolve a nearly 15-year dispute involving sand and gravel contracts with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM),” says a letter from John Laird, secretary for California Natural Resources, in support of Boxer’s S. 771. “[The bill] provides solutions for all parties engaged in this dispute and benefits an important watershed in Southern California.”

Further, as Laird’s staff has concluded, California doesn’t need the aggregate from this site.

In his testimony to a Senate subcommittee in November, Santa Clarita Councilman Bob Kellar pointed out that a 2012 study by the California Conservation Department — which falls under the umbrella of the California Natural Resources Agency — concluded that there is more than enough aggregate identified for mining throughout the state to meet construction needs for many years to come.

Kellar noted that the state report identifies non-permitted aggregate resources “representing six times the anticipated statewide demand!”

“Clearly,” said Kellar, “sand and gravel aggregate is not in short supply in California!”

In his support of S. 771, Secretary Laird made clear that there are other, more important priorities to consider when it comes to the proposed Soledad Canyon mining site.

“The City of Santa Clarita and its residents will greatly benefit from improved quality of life,” if S. 771 is approved and the mine is stopped, Laird said. “CEMEX [would be] made whole for its canceled contracts in Santa Clarita through the proceeds of other public lands already identified for disposal.”

“Moreover,” Laird added, “the natural resources located adjacent to the Upper [Santa Clara] River, which contain critical riparian forest woodland and coastal sage scrub habitats, [would be] protected and conserved to the benefit of the region and downstream into Ventura County.”

Secretary Laird’s thoughtful and well-reasoned input on S. 771 leaves no doubt: California does not need a massive aggregate mine in Soledad Canyon, and moreover, the environmental impacts from pushing it through as proposed would be unacceptable, not only for the wildlife in the region but also for livestock and human inhabitants as well.

Our local representatives get it. The state’s secretary of natural resources gets it.

The BLM should follow suit.

However, there are powerful reasons for the BLM to continue standing in the way of S. 771, as it has been doing thus far in the legislative process. You see, the BLM doesn’t see the Soledad Canyon mining site for what it means to those of us who live here. Rather, the BLM sees it as a symbol of their power as well as a source of income. The royalties that could be generated by the mining site could help sustain the bureaucracy for many years to come, especially if the mining extends beyond what’s already permitted by the two 10-year consecutive CEMEX contracts.

As far as the BLM is concerned, we’re going to get a massive gravel mine in Soledad Canyon — whether California needs one or not. That’s what Boxer, Feinstein and their teams are up against in Washington, D.C., making it ever more important that we demonstrate community support for S. 771 in the coming weeks as we try to push the bill out of committee and toward the Senate floor. If you’d like to show your support for S. 771 — and send the message that California neither needs nor wants the BLM’s Soledad Canyon mega-mine, please visit www.safe4environment.org to find out how to express your support for the bill.

It’s ironic, really. When it comes to Soledad Canyon, the BLM values a revenue stream more than it values an actual river. Let’s show them how wrong they really are.

Andrew Fried is president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc. 

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