Victory in Santa Clarita

  • Posted on 30 May 2019
  • By Sandra Cattell

Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Clarita

In 1990, the Bureau of Land Management awarded two 20 year contracts that were then purchased by Cemex to mine 56.1 million tons of aggregate in Soledad Canyon. The City of Santa Clarita, the Sierra Club, SAFE Inc, and many businesses and private citizens opposed it for many reasons. The Cemex site sits just southeast of the City of Santa Clarita, adjacent to the Santa Clara River, and threatens the air and water quality of the entire area. Mining uses a lot of water, and this site is directly upstream of a cluster of wells with low water levels or that have gone dry over the past few years. Over 1,000 truck trips per day would clog and damage roads and highways maintained by the city and the state. This site is also next to a significant ecological area, home to endangered species and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. An environmental impact report was required, and it found that, “Even with the implementation of all proposed mitigation measures, air quality impacts remain unavoidable, significant, and adverse.” The city, environmental groups, school districts, private citizens and elected officials have worked for more than 20 years and spent millions of dollars to eliminate this threat.

Although the Sierra Club signed on in opposition early on, it wasn't until about 2003 or 2004 that I became involved. In fact, this is how I first interfaced with the National Grassroots Network Wildlands Team. The Sierra Club worked with the City of Santa Clarita, Safe Action for the Environment, Inc., and both of our past Congressional Representatives plus Rep Brad Sherman, spoke with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, our California State Lands Director John Laird, and local Bureau of Land Management officials. With the help of our national lands team, Athan Manual and Matt Kirby, I lobbied in DC (several times) with my California Senators, Boxer (now retired), Feinstein, and Harris, and national officials of the BLM. After many years of this fight, in 2015, the BLM (under Jewell) canceled the contracts for non-performance (they were so busy fighting us). However, Cemex appealed, which put everything in limbo. Last year we did get a bill through to prevent any future mining on the site, once the current contracts were either fulfilled or canceled.

Early March, my current Representative Katie Hill sent a letter to IBLA (Interior Bureau of Lands Appeal) requesting a ruling in favor of upholding the BLM's decision to cancel the contracts.

Consequently, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued a ruling related to CEMEX’s appeal of the BLM’s 2015 Decision, canceling their two mining contracts in Soledad Canyon. The ruling is favorable to our community that does not want large-scale sand and gravel mining in Soledad Canyon.  We are cautiously optimistic that this is the end, but in this era of surprises, we are not letting our guard down! It is my (and many others) fondest hope that this area now becomes the northern entrance to the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

Thank you to everyone on the Sierra Club team who helped me. Thank you to the ever-persevering City of Santa Clarita, Safe Action for the Environment, Inc. (Andrew Fried) our Representatives (past and current), and all the officials who assisted us to protect Santa Clarita and our beautiful Soledad Canyon and San Gabriel Mountains.

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