U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
California

News.bytes News.bytes Extra, issue 228

ISSUE UPDATE: CEMEX-TRANSIT MIXED SOLEDAD CANYON SAND AND GRAVEL PROJECT

SUMMARY:

The Soledad Canyon Sand and Gravel Project (CEMEX-Transit Mixed Concrete, Inc.) in Los Angeles County was approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with mitigating measures in August 2000. The Interior Board of Land Appeals affirmed that decision in January 2002 and litigation to date through the Ninth Circuit has upheld the BLM's decision.

ISSUES:

The BLM, in 1990, awarded CEMEX a competitive contract to mine 56 million tons of sand and gravel over a 20-year period on split estate lands near Los Angeles for a minimum payment of $28 million. The contract site is in Soledad Canyon, 25 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The area has been used for aggregate mining since the early 1960s. The project involves a plant to produce and deliver ready-mixed concrete, providing 300 to 500 jobs.

A bid deposit of $700,000 and performance and reclamation bonds totaling $3.5 million are held by the BLM. The bureau was responsible for approving a mining plan of operations on the project, and Los Angeles County was responsible for ensuring compliance with the California Surface Mining Reclamation Act (SMRA). The county was the lead agency for preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR), while the BLM prepared the environmental impact statement (EIS). BLM consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding concerns about the listed endangered arroyo toad and received a “no jeopardy” biological opinion. The BLM's record of decision (ROD), signed in August 2000, approving the project with mitigating measures, was appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). The IBLA affirmed the ROD in January 2002.

In a separate review process, Los Angeles County's planning staff recommended approval of the proposed project. However, the Los Angeles County planning commission voted to deny it. CEMEX appealed the commission’s decision to the Los Angeles board of supervisors. The county postponed action on the matter five times, and in April 2002 formally denied a SMRA permit.

CEMEX filed suit against Los Angeles County in U.S. District Court alleging interference with a federal project and seeking damages. The U.S. Department of Justice, in July 2002, filed a motion on behalf of the Department of the Interior and the BLM to intervene in the lawsuit against Los Angeles County in U.S. District Court. The federal government was granted intervenor status in September 2002. The city of Santa Clarita, after being denied intervenor status, was granted status in appeal by the 9th Circuit Court. The case was settled through a consent decree approved by the District Court in May 2004.

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors approved the CEMEX project in June 2004 and certified the project EIR. Subsequent to the county's approval, the city of Santa Clarita filed an intent to appeal the county's decision to the state mining and geology board (SMGB). In July 2004, the SMGB denied the city's appeal.

Santa Clarita purchased the surface rights overlaying the mine site in 2004, and is currently pursuing annexation of this area into the city. The City has filed an annexation application before the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for Los Angeles County. This application is currently being evaluated by LAFCO. LAFCO public hearings to consider the annexation are anticipated in the near future. If annexation is approved by the county, the city would become the lead agency for regulating the Cemex project.

STATUS:

The federal government intervened in the lawsuit against Los Angeles County on the basis of federal "preemption" by asserting Los Angeles County had unreasonably delayed and then denied the project. The decision to approve the project is in conformance with federal contracts issued competitively in 1990, and all appropriate federal and state requirements for such projects. Soledad Canyon is in an area that has been utilized for mining since the 1960s. BLM considered all reasonable means to minimize adverse environmental impacts.

Current Status: This large sand and gravel project is still pending development due to extensive and complex legal challenges. Five different lawsuits concerning this project have been filed. The main case, brought by the company involved, CEMEX, against the county of Los Angeles, was settled in May 2004, and an appeal by the city of Santa Clarita before the 9th Circuit Court was decided on February 13, 2006 in favor of the project. The BLM, through the Department of Justice, was an intervenor in that case and asserted federal pre-emption issues over the county's regulation of the project. The city of Santa Clarita has brought three suits against the project. The Center for Biological Diversity filed the fifth suit. The U.S. District Court decided against the city in their lawsuits concerning ESA and NEPA issues on November 22, 2005, and January 4, 2006, respectively. The city has appealed these decisions to the 9th Circuit Court.

BLM California News.bytes, issue 228