The so-called “truce” between CEMEX and the City of Santa Clarita has expired according to city officials. The agreement was initiated in 2007 after an acrimonious public debate began escalating between the city and CEMEX.
“Before the truce? It was contentious. There was a war of sorts going on,” said Gail Ortiz, Communications Manager, City of Santa Clarita.
The city waged an unsuccessful battle in court, and another in the court of public opinion with large billboards denouncing the Soledad mega-mining project.
“It was from the public relations war where we saw the fruit of having the truce,” said Ortiz.
Now it would seem CEMEX has had enough and doesn’t want to extend the truce. They gave no reason for not extending, but stated they will be “exploring their options” over the next several months.
Ortiz agreed this was an ominous and vague response.
“This definitely is a change. The fact that we’ve had this truce for 5 ½ years, we no longer have a truce. It does make the potential for mega-mining in Soledad Canyon more imminent,” said Ortiz.
Imminent as in the first shovelful could be scooped tomorrow?
“Theoretically, they could. They need permits, but theoretically they could start mining tomorrow if they wanted to,” said Ortiz.
Sara Engdahl, Director of Communications for Cemex USA, says that while they are looking at different options they will continue their communication with the city to find a “mutually beneficial” solution.
When asked about the number of jobs that would be created if the mine were operational, Engdahl said she didn’t have the figures on hand but the mine would have “a positive impact on job creation.”
At their May 22, meeting the Santa Clarita City Council adopted a resolution calling for 25th District Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon to arrange a meeting with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Richard “Doc” Hastings, to explore legislation that can be introduced during this session of congress that resolves the issue and does not come in conflict with the Republican lead House rules relating to earmarks.
“This should not be construed by anybody as a partisan issue. And Buck has got to start thinking of his constituency as opposed to the party line,” said Andrew G. Fried, President, Safe Action For the Environment, (SAFE) Inc.
SAFE is a non-profit organization created because of the CEMEX issue to protect the environment in the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys. Fried doesn’t think the CEMEX decision was completely unexpected and thinks they are trying to send a message to Congressman McKeon.
“Work it and help resolve this issue. The community doesn’t want it. We’re willing to give up the asset. We just need to be made whole. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. Get off your Buck and do something,” said Fried.
Fried believes CEMEX wants a change in leadership on the issue.
“I don’t think it was coincidental that they reached this decision immediately prior to the primaries,” said Fried.
McKeon says his opponents have taken advantage of the CEMEX issue.
“This has been a campaign issue that people have beaten me up on and they’re not factual they’re not correct,” said McKeon.
One issue he takes exception with is the idea that he is following the party line by not bucking the House rules regarding earmarks.
“I’ve heard my opponents, people that are trashing me on this issue, saying that I’ve just kowtowed to leadership and I just won’t put the bill in. That’s nonsense. You have to follow – you even said – rules can be broken, that’s not correct, not factual,” said McKeon.
McKeon says opponents are always try to paint him as not caring about the people of Santa Clarita and caring more about the leadership in Washington.
“Hey, I am in leadership. I’m the chairman of one of the most important committees in congress. I don’t have to kowtow to anybody. And I don’t,” said McKeon.
Two weeks ago KHTS AM 1220 co-sponsored a trip to Washington, DC where McKeon set up meetings for local business people and decision makers. One of those meetings included a sit down with Congressman Hastings. McKeon did not sit in on the meeting, but was told by Hastings that he’d explained to the delegation that due to House rules preventing earmarks the CEMEX bill could not be introduced.
“Didn’t have much effect, y’know? They didn’t pay much attention to what he told them. They went to the city council, and Bob Kellar (Santa Clarita City Council Member) was in that meeting and the next week they passed a resolution saying that we should work together to make this happen, well, they just either don’t understand or don’t want to accept the facts and it’s more politically expedient for them to make it out like I’m not doing my job,” said McKeon.
Kellar, who has endorsed another candidate for McKeon’s seat, says he understood the rules about earmarks.
“I will not debate the issue as to whether or not it is an earmark. But I will say we have a responsibility to work and do what’s right for the citizens that elect us and send us to whatever level of government we have been elected to. And I just simply interpret this as a failure to do what is needed for the citizens and the protection of our families,” said Kellar.
McKeon suggests people look to the city and county for answers not just the federal government.
“What the city could do is, y’know, they’re not helpless, they’ve spent, my understanding is over $10 million fighting this. They’ve lost lots of court cases. But the county has permit authority and they’ve done a lot of mitigation. Like there are numbers being used of how many trucks can be on the road, and how the air quality would be affected. The county has mitigated most of that away,” said McKeon.
McKeon responded to the suggestion that people are turning to him for help and their frustration is with him.
“No, tell ‘em to turn to themselves a little bit too. They turn to me, y’know, I’ve been working on this. Some of them are saying I’m not doing anything. I’m not helping my constituents. Well, I’m saying we’re all in this and we all need to be working on it. You can’t just, they can’t just pass it all off to me,” said McKeon.
McKeon does say that since he’s been in office no digging by CEMEX has begun.
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