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Feinstein supports bill to block mine

Latest version could require compensation from city

Posted: May 5, 2013 2:00 p.m.
Updated: May 5, 2013 2:00 p.m.

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s latest bill to stop the Cemex open-pit sand and gravel mine in Canyon Country has picked up a new sponsor: fellow California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

And that’s good news, said one official with the city of Santa Clarita, which has been battling the mine for years.

“I think it certainly enhances the viability of the legislation,” said Michael Murphy, Santa Clarita’s intergovernmental relations officer. “It’s a very strong statement when both California senators are on the same bill.”

Boxer said Wednesday she is pleased to have Feinstein’s support for the bill, which proposes selling federally owned land near Victorville to compensate the mining firm Cemex for its contracts to mine in Soledad Canyon.

“The California Senate delegation is united in the belief that this issue must be addressed in a fair and responsible way, and I am very pleased that Senator Feinstein has stepped forward to co-sponsor this bill,” Boxer said.

Though Feinstein has previously supported a legislative resolution to the Cemex issue, this is the first time she has signed on to support such a bill, Murphy said.

Feinstein was not available to comment on the bill last week due to her travel schedule, said spokesman Tom Mentzer.

The Bureau of Land Management issued two 10-year contracts in 1990 to mine 56 million tons of sand and gravel from a site in Soledad Canyon. Santa Clarita city officials have been battling the plan since at least 2002, saying a mine of that magnitude would choke Highway 14 with truck traffic and compromise air quality throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, has repeatedly sponsored congressional legislation for an agreement to avoid the mine, but without success. Last congressional session and this one, he declined to carry the bill, saying it would violate House rules against earmarks.

Cemex, the Mexican mining firm that owns the BLM contracts, has not acted on them, instead supporting plans to give up the contracts in exchange for money or federally owned land. However, the firm does not support Boxer’s latest version of the proposal.

Sara Engdahl, a spokeswoman for Cemex, said last month the company does not consider it a “viable solution” because it doesn’t ensure federal money will entirely cover the mining contracts’ value.

The potential cost to the federal government of earlier versions of the bill was what concerned Feinstein, Murphy said.

In past versions of the bill, Murphy said it was implied the federal government would step in and pay the difference should the land sale fall short of the costs of the contract.

But this version of the bill, S. 771, is different, Murphy said. It does not require the federal government to pay anything; rather, representatives from Cemex and Santa Clarita would meet to try and make up the difference themselves if the land sale fell short of the contracts’ value.

This could mean Cemex taking less than the market value of the contracts, or the city paying the difference, Murphy said.

“Basically, if it is determined that we are short ‘X’ number of dollars, then the two parties would need to figure out what additional financial participation would be required,” Murphy said Friday.

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar called the legislation “a fair solution” to the Cemex issue during his town hall meeting in Saugus last Tuesday night.

“This is a bill that will work out a fair and equitable solution for the citizens of Santa Clarita and the shareholders of Cemex,” he said.

Both Kellar and Murphy said the goal is for Boxer’s bill to be heard by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources sometime early this summer.

“We will know if we’re going to win (on this issue) this year,” Kellar said.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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