New Battles Are Waged Against Cemex Quarry By SHELLY GARCIA Senior Reporter A long running brouhaha over the mining of Soledad Canyon is again rising up from the sand and gravel quarry off Highway 14 in the Santa Clarita Valley. This week, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is due to introduce a bill that would block mining of about 56 million tons of the stuff and send what opponents estimate can be anywhere from 582 to 1,160 concrete trucks down the 405 freeway and into the San Fernando Valley daily over the next 20 years. Also in coming weeks, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to decide whether the city of Santa Clarita can enter the fray that’s underway between the county of Los Angeles and the company that wants to mine the hillside, Cemex Inc., along with the federal government. Not that the city of Santa Clarita has remained outside the dispute that is now more than a decade old. Officials say they have already spent $2 million to oppose the project, which is technically a mile outside the city’s borders. But what an appeals court decision in favor of Santa Clarita would do is allow the city to join the county as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Cemex and the feds against the county for trying to block mining of the quarry. And the county will likely need all the partners it can get. Monterrey, Mexico-based Cemex, is the largest cement producer and distributor in the U.S. and the third largest such supplier in the world with revenues of more than $1 billion. Cemex was granted rights to mine the quarry in a lease agreement with the federal government, but the deal requires the approval of the county of Los Angeles. The way the county sees it, that gives the local government jurisdiction over what gets mined at all. The way Cemex sees it, the county rights end with some limited control over how the site is mined. What’s so bad about digging concrete out of a hillside in north Los Angeles County? “The two biggest issues are air quality and traffic,” said Jeffrey Lambert, a Sherman Oaks based consultant in planning and government relations and the former director of planning for the city of Santa Clarita. Lambert points out that Santa Clarita already has the dubious distinction of having some of the worst air quality in the region. “We don’t need anything to press that level,” he said. At the same time, because the concrete will be used for construction, much of which will take place in and around the San Fernando Valley, Lambert said the traffic created by the movement of the concrete trucks will further snarl the local roads and freeways. Cemex officials insist that so long as the demand for housing and other building continues unabated in Southern California, gravel will be mined anyway. “If it isn’t delivered out of Soledad, it will be delivered out of Palmdale, so there will be no reduction in truck trips,” said Brian Mastin, a spokesman for Cemex. “That will result in more truck miles and the same number of truck trips. The question is whether you want to have longer truck trips or shorter truck trips.” Cemex and the Dept. of Justice filed suit in U.S. District Court against L.A. County claiming that the county has unjustifiably delayed the project over a 10-year environmental review process, and the sides have been in mediation to try to resolve the problem. Cemex has been waiting to move forward on the project since 1989, when it submitted the winning bid and was granted leasing rights to the mine. “The county has some rights to exercise reasonable environmental regulations over the project,” said Mastin. “They do not have authority to deny the project as they have done. They are pre-empted by federal law.” The county has a different interpretation. Citing the potential damage to air quality, ground water, it denied the project in 2002. Another lawsuit brought against the feds by the city of Santa Clarita also seeks to prevent the mining of the site under the Endangered Species Act claiming that mining the area will threaten the fish, frogs and birds that live in and around the Santa Clara River, which borders the site. The city expects to file briefs on that lawsuit this spring and is hoping for a decision this year. Meanwhile, two legislators have also joined the tumult. Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon is trying to limit mining of the site. And Sen. Boxer’s bill seeks to terminate the leases to mine the area altogether.