[KHTS] – Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar, U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) spoke Wednesday in favor of Senate Bill 771, which would stop a mine from coming to the Santa Clarita Valley.
The next step for the bill is to have the value of lands involved in the bill to be “scored” and then presented to the full committee, according to Sen. Joe Manchin, D- West Virginia. A timeline for when that would occur was not discussed at the hearing.
The bill calls for the cancellation of two mining contracts that Cemex, a Mexico-based, international building materials company, owns on land just east of the city of Santa Clarita.
In exchange, the Bureau of Land Management would be called upon to sell about 10,000 acres in San Bernardino County, the value of which would be used to compensate Cemex for the value of their land.
The value of those lands is an important component, and would determine, what if any amount, the city would be required to pay in order to make sure there is no cost to the federal government in cancelling the contract.
Kellar said the city was committed to making sure of that, but that he also believed the value of the lands in Victorville will negate the value of the contract.
Despite bipartisan support, the effort to stop the mine is a long and protracted one, Boxer said, stretching back more than a decade.
Even the Bureau of Land Management, which is the agency that awarded Cemex the mining contracts, now sees the potential for a 56 million ton gravel mine as a threat to the area’s valuable ecological resources, said Boxer, who introduced the bill.
“We are all united — the state of California, the city of Santa Clarita, (McKeon) and I are all united (in support of S.B. 771),” Boxer said. “It preserves a fragile natural habitat and it has the support of Cemex and Republicans and Democrats alike.”
For its part, Cemex also supports the bill, according to a Cemex official.
“It’s our goal to reach a mutually beneficial decision, so we fully support this legislation,” said Sara Engdahl, director, of communications for Cemex USA.
However, the BLM expressed opposition to the bill, dubious of the example it sets, not for the virtue of what it accomplishes, according to Steve Ellis, acting deputy director for the Bureau of Land Management.
“(The BLM) opposes Senate Bill 771, which would use public resources to buy out valid contracts,” Ellis said. “The department is also concerned about the precedents created by the sale of public lands to compensate a private entity.”
McKeon described past attempts to stop the mine that failed due to the fact that the bills were perceived as earmarks
“To me, this is our biggest issue within the district,” McKeon said during his opening remarks. “When this mine was first awarded, it was out in a remote region — there are a lot of homes built in the area now.”
The plan now, McKeon said, is to create what legislators call a “Zero score,” so that the bill does not cost taxpayers anything. To that end, the city of Santa Clarita has agreed to pay, also, if there is a difference between the value of the San Bernardino lands and the value of the mining contracts.
When questioned by Manchin, Ellis identified the value to the U.S. Treasury of the potential mining contracts.
“The total projected value to the resources to the U.S. Treasury, by cancelling these valid contracts, we’d lose $21 million,” Ellis said, adding that the government would also be “forgoing an estimated $450 million in royalties” for taxpayers.
A Cemex representative said there might have been some confusion over the contracts’ value, but she said the company appraised the contracts at $28 million. She could not confirm the royalties figure.
The city and the mine are at a critical juncture, Kellar said.
“If we cannot bring closure to the issue during this session, Cemx has indicated that they will have no choice but to go forward and obtain the final permits leading to mining of the site, Kellar said to the committee. “Many years of cooperation and trust will be lost and, more importantly, the community will be changed forever with the establishment of large-scale mining.”
The city had four main concerns, Kellar said — traffic congestion, air quality, loss of irreplaceable habitat and open space and significant depletion of the quality of life for our citizens.
He also challenged the legitimacy of the $450 million figure, which Kellar said, includes royalties projected beyond the length of the two 20-year contracts that Cemex owns.
Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, who also attended the hearing but did not testify, called it “critical day” in the battle against a Santa Clarita Valley mine.
“And I think that in the process, we’ve finally unifed all of our elected officials together in the community,” Weste said, “and we are supported by the leaders from Cemex.”