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Soledad Canyon mining area | Photo: SAFE Action for the Environment

Soledad Canyon mining area | Photo: SAFE Action for the Environment

[KHTS] – With the 113th Congress failing to stop large-scale mining the Santa Clarita Valley, Cemex appears ready to start mining aggregates in Soledad Canyon.

The Senate closed up shop for the holidays Tuesday night after a flurry of last-minute legislative activity left the city without the Senate vote needed to avert a mine in Soledad Canyon just east of city limits.

The bill’s failure prompted Cemex to issue the following statement Wednesday:

“Cemex is disappointed that the combined efforts of Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein, and Congressman McKeon, working with the City of Santa Clarita to address long-term concerns in Soledad Canyon in a manner acceptable to multiple stakeholders, were not ultimately successful in Congress.

“Throughout the exhaustive process over the past seven years to develop a legislative solution, Cemex made every effort to support the process. A silver lining is that Cemex and the City through their collaborative efforts, have developed a mutual respect for each other’s concerns and priorities, which Cemex hopes will survive the failed legislative effort as we continue to seek a resolution.

“Cemex continues to maintain contracts with the federal government, and as a publicly-traded company, we must be mindful of our obligations to our shareholders.

“Given these considerations and the uncertain political climate at this time, Cemex will continue to pursue implementation of the Soledad Canyon project with the goal of bringing the project on-line, while also exploring with the City mutually agreeable solutions.”

Stopping a local mine has been a longstanding goal officials, including Congressman Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, campaigned around for years. Now, it appears that might not happen.

“We are hopeful that Cemex will continue to work with the city and our legislators for a legisalative solution in 2015,” said Gail Morgan, city of Santa Clarita spokeswoman, in response to Cemex’ statement. “They’ve been patient and they’ve been great partners and we hope to continue our partnership.”

 

Gravel has been mined on a relatively small scale in Soledad Canyon for decades, as seen in this late-1960s photograph. If the BLM's plan holds, the mountains in the background would be gone in 50 years. (James Krause/SCVHistory.com)

Gravel has been mined on a relatively small scale in Soledad Canyon for decades, as seen in this late-1960s photograph. The BLM’s mining leases would significantly increase mining activity in the area. (James Krause/SCVHistory.com)

A brief history of the Cemex bill

Santa Clarita officials and Cemex executives struck a partnership seven years ago, after years of fighting.

The deal essentially entailed the international mining company holding off on profiting from its mineral rights contracts in Soledad Canyon, so both sides could work on a way to compensate Cemex by other means.

The latest version of “the legislative solution,” the Soledad Canyon Settlement Act, calls for Cemex to cancel their mining contracts in exchange for 10,000 acres of federal land being sold, with those proceeds compensating Cemex.

Santa Clarita officials said the bill, which was authored by Boxer and achieved a zero score, led to city officials celebrating the move as the best bet for Santa Clarita to stop a massive sand and gravel mine.

The legislative answer languished for more than a decade as little more than a campaign promise due to a congressional ban on earmarks, according to McKeon.

Then, in November, Santa Clarita officials were filled with renewed optimism.

Boxer’s zero score bill meant the Cemex bill, as its been known colloquially by most in the Santa Clarita Valley, had no cost to the taxpayer. No congressional rules, agreements or understanding, could stop McKeon from introducing the bill in the House, after eight previously failed attempts.

 

boxermckeon

Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Buck McKeon

The 113th legislative session

Because of the nature of the bill, officials working on the bill identified the National Defense Authorization Act as the perfect vehicle for Cemex’ passage.

The bill had little chance as a standalone bill, said one city official, who unwittingly portended its fate nearly two weeks ago after a meeting with McKeon.

The meeting between Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar and McKeon was precipitated by news the Cemex bill, or H.R. 5472, which McKeon introduced about a week after Boxer’s S.B. 2938, would not be included in the NDAA.

The NDAA was the right fit for Cemex because the omnibus legislation included a slew of bipartisan public land use bills, officials said.

The omnibus package was hailed by many — from Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, who plays an integral role later in the story, to McKeon, who chairs the committee where the defense appropriations bill originates, the House Armed Services Committee.

However, the Cemex bill was conspicuously absent.

City officials got on the phones, met with legislators and lobbied McKeon for the chairman of the HASC to add the bill as a manager’s amendment.

McKeon said he couldn’t, according to Kellar, and that state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale — who was elected to replace McKeon in January — was the bill’s best bet.

 

The Cemex property abuts the newly designated San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

The Cemex property abuts the newly designated San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

How the Cemex bill failed

Apparently unbeknownst to all, McKeon reportedly planned things this way.

About one week after city officials sent out a letter expressing their disappointment in McKeon for not using a manager’s amendment to include the Cemex bill in the NDAA, he pulled the bill off the suspension calendar.

“(H.R. 5742) was never an appropriate bill for the NDAA and the omnibus,” said Morris Thomas, Santa Clarita Valley field representative for McKeon, shortly after McKeon got the bill passed with a unanimous voice vote. “We’ve been working on an alternative for some time, but any prior disclosure of this particular option would have jeopardized it.”

Days earlier, McKeon told Kellar the Cemex bill would have been scored months earlier in order to make it into the omnibus NDAA package. McKeon claimed to be unaware of the bipartisan legislative package, which Knight said he “can’t believe” at the time.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico

However, the move meant the bill bypassed normal House committee procedure, and therefore in order to make it to President Barack Obama’s desk for a signature, it must have the signoff of all 100 senators.

This placed Boxer and her staff with few options, and just a few days to garner support from Heinrich — who served two terms in the House of Representatives in the HASC under McKeon before his election to the Senate and opposed the Cemex bill on ideological grounds.

Heinrich placed a legislative hold on the bill, indicating he didn’t support it, leaving Boxer little option.

“Heinrich has no objection to buying out the gravel mining contract outside of Santa Clarita, Calif.,” said Whitney Porter, Heinrich’s spokeswoman. “However, the Soledad Canyon Settlement Act uses the sale of 10,000 acres of BLM land as a budget offset to pay for the buyout. This is highly unusual for public land legislation.”

The bill sets a dangerous precedent, she added, noting it could allow Congress to use federal lands as a “piggy bank” any time legislators need funds.

His views echo those of the Bureau of Land Management officials, who also formally opposed the bill, despite numerous attempts by city officials.

 

Where things stand now for the Cemex bill

Now the only hope for the bill  would be for Cemex to wait another several months for Knight to, as he’s already promised, introduce a bill with identical language, and hope Cemex doesn’t begin mining in the meantime.

Wednesday’s statement makes it seem as though that’s very unlikely.

Cemex officials were openly optimistic about a legislative solution leading up to the 113th Congress’ final hours. The bill was expected to compensate the mining company with more than $20 million for its contracts — considered by both sides to be an equitable sum.

The city, for its part, has spent about $12 million in the effort to stop a Santa Clarita Valley, including the purchase of the land where the mine is slated to go.

Santa Clarita officials remain hopeful about a Cemex bill for obvious reasons, and Cemex officials have been publicly supportive of their efforts

But both sides seem aware patience is running out for how long the mining company is willing to wait to cash in on its contracts.

Last year, Kellar seemed to indicate time for a compromise was running out during a Senate committee that included Heinrich.

“If we cannot bring closure to the issue during this session, Cemex 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 in front of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which Heinrich is a part.

“Many years of cooperation and trust will be lost,” Kellar added, “and, more importantly, the community will be changed forever with the establishment of large-scale mining.”

When reached for comment last week, Cemex spokeswoman Sara Engdahl said the international mining company “fully supports this legislation and is optimistic of its passage in the Senate,” referring to  S.B. 2938.  “We will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the city of Santa Clarita as we move closer to a resolution.”

However, as it appeared hope for a legislative session was fading in the waning hours of the 113th Congress, the words from Cemex officials took on a more guarded tone.

“Cemex will definitely have to take a longer term look forward at our next steps with Soledad Canyon,” said Sara Engdahl, spokeswoman for Cemex, on Monday. “If a resolution is not reached, then Cemex is still under obligation for the contracts we hold.”

“There are a series of permits that are required before Cemex could begin on-site operations, she added. “Based on the ongoing conversation that Cemex has had (with affected parties, such as the city of Santa Clarita),” Engdahl said, “it seems as though the time for a resolution has come.”

Ultimately, all city officials can do is hang to the hope that Cemex will remain committed to the partnership, Morgan said.

“They’re keeping their options open and they’re reminding us and legisators that they do have contracts to mine,” Morgan said. “They have responsibility to shareholders — and they are reminding us of that, which we are very mindful of — so we do appreciate their restraint and look forward to success  in 2015.”

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7 Comments

  1. Greg Brown Greg Brown says:

    There goes the neighborhood.

  2. Thanks for nothing Buck. You owe the city 12 million dollars.

  3. Frank Rock Frank Rock says:

    My disgust for this “man” knows no measure. Hope he enjoys his newly inflated bank account outside of the valley he turned his back on.

  4. jim soliz says:

    This was really terrific reporting, smith. Of course an analysis of the contents is required, but it would really take as much or more room than the article. Good job on the facts! As for Buck, folks in Santa Clarita are better off with him in Washington.

  5. Gene Dorio, M.D. says:

    I’ve always wondered about the use of the term “shareholders.” Aren’t we, citizens of Santa Clarita, shareholders also? Who is more important: shareholders of Cemex, or shareholders of Santa Clarita?

  6. Citizen Smith says:

    The City of Santa Clarita has never met a developer they didn’t like so how could they possibly oppose CEMEX ? Oh wait, they aren’t making a profit from them. CEMEX trucks won’t be driving on our streets adding congestion and more stoplights like all the new housing tracts. The air quality issues are bogus as the prevailing winds blow particulates AWAY from the city. The City needs the mine to supply all the development they approve. The only reason they oppose it must be to protect one of their unspoken partners businesses from the competition CEMEX will provide. So please City council, go ahead and continue to approve projects and name the after yourself. We need more Jan Heidt Metro stations, Buck Mckeon Drives, and Kellar Parkways. Nothing like getting paid to spend other peoples money and naming the project after yourself like a dog marking his territory. And as for the 12 million dollars they wasted ?? With that kind of money they could have torn up and replanted our medians at least six more times giving their friends at the landscape company some more lucrative contracts. Carry on….

  7. Jerry Walgamuth says:

    Finally, a news source has dug up some good information on this. Thank you Perry Smith and SCVTV. I still have some questions though. Why was “(H.R. 5742) never an appropriate bill for the NDAA and the omnibus”. Why did Boxer, McKeon and the the City et all place ALL their confidence in what appears to be a controversial land deal for so long? No other options? Why was Heinrich the lone dissenting vote out of 100? Smells of Washington politics. What did we spend 12 million on?

Leave a Comment


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