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UPDATE: Cemex balks at Boxer bill

Posted: April 18, 2013 1:25 p.m.
Updated: April 18, 2013 7:10 p.m.

A bill introduced Thursday to block the proposed Cemex sand and gravel mine in Canyon Country is not a “viable resolution” to the long-running dispute between the approved open-pit operation and local residents, a company spokeswoman said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced the Soledad Canyon Settlement Act in a bill Thursday that proposes a land-swap deal in exchange for Cemex’s contracts for the mine, which would extract 56 million tons of sand and gravel from Soledad Canyon over 20 years’ time.

But the bill doesn’t go far enough — unlike previous one introduced last congressional session and earlier — said company spokeswoman Sara Engdahl.

“The bill introduced by (Boxer) today does not fully take into account the compensation that Cemex is legally entitled to in the event its contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are canceled,” Engdahl said Thursday.

“As a result, Cemex does not view this newly introduced legislation in its current form to be a viable resolution.”

The bill would direct the federal Bureau of Land Management to cancel Cemex’s sand and gravel mining leases for Soledad Canyon and prevent the site from being mined in the future.

It would also instruct the bureau to sell land near Victorville and use those proceeds to compensate Cemex for the value of the canceled contracts.

The bill is virtually identical to past legislation Boxer has introduced on the issue, said spokesman Zachary Coile.

But there are some additional details in this version, including specifying that the compensation given to Cemex to cancel the mining contract can be no greater than the revenue actually generated from the land sales, he said.

Cemex won the mining contracts from the Bureau of Land Management some 20 years ago. For years, the city of Santa Clarita and other local agencies fought to block the mine.

Residents say it would pollute Santa Clarita Valley air and overload Highway 14 with gravel-hauling trucks heading to locations to process and market the product.

Cemex, based in Mexico, has supported legislative solutions to the dispute in the past and waited for years as Congress wrangled with an alternative to opening the mine. But none has passed.

Michael Murphy, intergovernmental relations officer for Santa Clarita, said the bill should provide a good starting point for all the stakeholders in the issue.

“This is not an ending point,” Murphy said of the bill. “But it really is a beginning point for substantive discussions.”

Boxer introduced similar legislation during the past two congressional sessions. Prior to that, the bill was carried by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.

McKeon declined to introduce the bill last session, saying the House of Representatives’ earmark ban prohibited it. The ban has been renewed for the current congressional session.

Alissa McCurley, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clarita Valley Republican, said McKeon’s office is still in the process of reviewing the bill.

“The congressman remains steadfastly in support of any and all efforts to stop the mine,” McCurley said.

But getting around the earmark ban in the House could prove to be a challenge, McCurley said.

“What we can or cannot do over here in the House is always the issue,” she said.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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