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BATTLE TO STOP MINE A COSTLY COMMITMENT CITY ALLOTS $1 MILLION TO FIGHT.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - The gloves have come off, and the battle over a massive sand and gravel mining pit in Canyon Country is joined.

Twenty local groups, agencies and elected officials have appealed the federal Bureau of Land Management's approval of the 460-acre mine south of the Antelope Valley Freeway between Agua Dulce and Soledad Canyon roads.

But while some, such as the city of Santa Clarita, say they are prepared to go the distance, others acknowledge that they have limited resources to fight the mine and Azusa-based Transit Mixed Concrete's well-financed lobbying operation.

According to the BLM and TMC, the mine will not harm the environment of the Santa Clarita Valley. But mine critics, many of whom took issue with that finding, say the mine will degrade the air quality in the valley, harm the Santa Clara River area and threaten the water supply.

TMC will pay the federal government $28 million over the 20-year life of the mine for the right to extract 83 million tons of material from Soledad Canyon.

The city estimates there are 9,600 homes within a five-mile radius of the mine, and two elementary schools are just over a mile way.

TMC will be a good neighbor in Santa Clarita, said Brian Mastin, the company's environmental affairs manager.

Nevertheless, the city has set aside more than $1 million to fight the mine, but other agencies and groups appealing the decision have far less capital available.

``We're really not willing to let them know this, but we don't have that kind of money available, and nothing set aside,'' said Kent Frison, the assistant superintendent for the Sulphur Springs School District. ``But we'll fight it any way that we can.''

Sulphur Springs officials have held off on finalizing plans to build a new elementary school because the proposed site is less than a mile from the planned mine. New schools are desperately needed in the Santa Clarita Valley to ease overcrowding brought on by new home developments.

Frison said he expected to use the city's research to support the school district's appeal, a tactic that many of the other agencies are using, including the Agua Dulce Town Council.

``We simply don't have those kind of resources, and we're looking to the city to shoulder the bulk of the burden,'' said town council President Diane Terito.

Terito said Agua Dulce officials are concerned that approval of the TMC mine will pave the way for another, larger mining operation to get under way in Soledad Canyon. Irwindale-based Calmat Co. has an inactive permit request pending before the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department.

The William S. Hart Union High School District also has appealed the decision, telling the BLM that the mine will cause air pollution that will sicken its students.

Superintendent Bob Lee said school district officials also are concerned about the safety of students riding school buses on the Antelope Valley Freeway and Soledad Canyon Road with large gravel trucks going to and from the mine.

Lee said that the level of the Hart district's involvement in the appeal process will depend on what additional information is required.

``We could search our health records for the number of students with respiratory ailments fairly easily and inexpensively,'' Lee said. ``But are we going to bring in biologists and consultants? Realistically, we don't have the money for that.''

But there are limits to the resources available to the city, and the political will to muster them.

Mayor Jo Anne Darcy said Thursday she was not sure that spending $1 million on a fight the city cannot win was the best use of city funds.

TMC officials argue that the mine needs only the approval of the BLM to move forward because of the supremacy of federal law over county regulations. Still, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to decide whether to issue TMC a permit on Oct. 24.

Don E. Newquist, vice president for public affairs for Southdown Inc., TMC's parent company, told the City Council on Aug. 29 that there will be mining in Soledad Canyon, despite the city's opposition.

Maria Rountree said city officials believe they have a good argument, on both environmental and legal grounds, to stop the mine and do not share TMC's belief that the city cannot stop the mine.

But Rountree acknowledged that city officials will likely think twice before spending a large amount of money if it looks to be a losing proposition.

``We always examine the feasibility of a project before spending a large amount of money,'' she said.

TMC MINE FIGHTERS

Agencies and organizations that have appealed the federal government's approval of Transit Mixed Concrete's plan to mine 460 acres in Soledad Canyon:

City of Santa Clarita

Agua Dulce Town Council

Castaic Lake Water Agency

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning Environment

Safe Action for the Environment

Friends of the Santa Clara River

Center for Biological Diversity

Jonathan Truong, M.D.

Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District

Sulphur Springs School District

William S. Hart Union High School District

Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce

Valencia Industrial Association

Southland Regional Association of Realtors

International Union of Operating Engineers

U.S. Rep. Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon

5th District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich

Newhall County Water District

Sierra Club

Curtis Sand & Gravel

CAPTION(S):

map, box

Box: TMC Mine Fighters (see text)

Map: Proposed Transit Mixed Concrete Site
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 5, 2000
Words:902
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