|  By Andrew Fried, SAFE President  |
Oct. 7, 2015

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of CEMEX’s Soledad Canyon sand and gravel mine have been greatly exaggerated.

A month ago, there was shouting from the rooftops, cheering headlines that said the BLM had “killed” the much-feared mining contracts, held by CEMEX for more than 20 years (but not yet acted upon).

The contracts would allow CEMEX to mine 56 million tons of aggregate from a Soledad Canyon site just east of the City of Santa Clarita. The mine would be a pretty undesirable neighbor to many communities in the region, and in particular Santa Clarita, Acton and Agua Dulce.

To hear many local observers tell the story, with the BLM’s cancellation of the contracts, the multi-decade battle to save Soledad Canyon was over. Victory was ours. CEMEX’s Soledad Canyon plans were kaput. Finished. Done. Dead as a doornail.

At Safe Action for the Environment Inc., the local reactions made us cringe. We applauded the enthusiasm, but as a not-for-profit organization formed 16 years ago to battle the proposed mine, we knew all too well that CEMEX was not likely to accept the BLM decision quietly.

CEMEX had the option to appeal the cancellation of the contracts, which is exactly what the company did on the final day of its 30-day appeal window, as is typical in such administrative proceedings. CEMEX filed a notice of appeal and is seeking a stay of the BLM’s Aug. 28 decision, and the company also released a statement accusing the BLM of making an improper, arbitrary decision to cancel the contracts.

So, the CEMEX “witch” isn’t dead just yet. Ahead we can expect a lengthy, multi-stage battle that starts with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, and may continue into the federal courts until CEMEX wins or loses its appeal(s), exhausts its options or throws in the towel.

It could take years. Here in the Santa Clarita Valley and surrounding communities, we still need to keep our guard up, while remaining cautiously optimistic.

We must bear this in mind, too: Even if CEMEX loses its appeal(s), that doesn’t provide any permanent protection for our communities against a mega-mine in Soledad Canyon. The BLM’s cancellation of the CEMEX contracts doesn’t say a thing about the long-term future of Soledad Canyon. For all we know, the BLM may end up seeking another mining company to take over the project.

For now, this battle is a contract dispute between the BLM and CEMEX.

There’s a certain amount of irony in these latest events. One factor that led to the cancellations was CEMEX’s multi-year “truce” with the City of Santa Clarita, during which both sides pursued a mutually agreeable legislative solution.

Sometimes misreported in the press as a “land swap,” the legislative solution called for the sale of excess federal land to compensate CEMEX for cancelling the contracts. The effort had the support of key legislators, including both California U.S. Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and most recently our local Rep. Steve Knight.

Those efforts unfortunately have failed, as various incarnations of the bills were stalled for one reason or another. With the environmental studies for the CEMEX plan starting to get stale, the BLM pulled the plug in August.

It’s an important victory in the long-running battle to save our communities from the devastating impacts of the mine, including unacceptable impacts on air quality, traffic, wildlife corridors and the area’s quality of life. But it is not the final victory.

The final victory — at least as it regards the CEMEX contracts — will only come when the mining company loses or abandons its appeals. On its face, it appears as if CEMEX faces an uphill battle. But, the company has deep pockets and a long-running commitment to this project. A quick resolution does not appear likely.

And, that brings us back around to another memorable quote, this one coming from the recently departed Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

When it comes to the CEMEX mine, it ain’t over. Not yet anyway.

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

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