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CEMEX DECLARES TRUCE ON MINE COMPROMISE SOUGHT WITH CITY.

Byline: JUDY O'ROURKE Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA -- After an eight-year, multimillion-dollar battle with the city, Cemex officials said Tuesday they've called off plans to open a massive gravel mine in Soledad Canyon next year and want to negotiate a compromise instead.

The city had spent roughly $8 million on a campaign to scale down the project or get it barred from the area between Canyon Country and Agua Dulce. Opponents claimed the mine would pollute the region's air and increase heavy truck traffic on local highways and surface streets.

City Manager Ken Pulskamp stopped short of calling Cemex's announcement a victory for Santa Clarita, but said officials were optimistic about a favorable outcome.

``We're very excited to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with Cemex,'' Pulskamp said. ``This is a major step forward.''

Cemex officials said the city's vigorous campaign convinced them to reconsider their initial plan.

``The dispute had become a significant distraction toward exploring a solution,'' Executive Vice President Rick Shapiro said.

The plan may hinge on federal legislation introduced this year, modeled on a measure that failed in 2006.

That earlier bill would have canceled Cemex's lease to mine 56.1 million tons of sand and gravel from Soledad Canyon and limit future mining to 300,000 tons a year, while compensating the company for its expenses.

The issue dates back to 1990, when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management awarded a 20-year contract to Transit Mixed Concrete Co., in return for $28 million in royalties. Cemex later bought TMC and inherited the leases in 2000.

Amid strong community opposition, Los Angeles County officials rejected plans for the mine, a decision that Cemex challenged with a lawsuit filed in federal court. County supervisors ultimately granted a mining permit in June 2004 under a court-approved consent decree, which was upheld last fall by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the temporary truce announced Tuesday, the two sides will work toward a comprise the rest of this year -- and longer if it appears that progress is being made.

If an agreement cannot be reached, Pulskamp said, the dispute will simply pick up where it left off.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein conveyed their support for the negotiations.

The city has dismantled its campaign against the mine, which included billboards, a video, a commuter bus wrapped in anti-mine messages, a mail-in postcard drive and an extensive anti-Cemex link on its Web site.

Officials also said the City Council will proceed with plans to annex 1,885 acres of city-owned land in Soledad Canyon, but will exclude the proposed mine site for now.

If Cemex ultimately walks away from the Soledad Canyon project, the U.S. secretary of the interior could devise a plan for the company to mine another property, officials said.

And BLM officials said they've been updated on the plan for Cemex and Santa Clarita to pursue a compromise.

``The Cemex situation has not changed for us,'' BLM spokesman John Dearing said. ``We still have a contract with Cemex and they're permitted and should be ready to go. Any activity going on now is between Cemex and the city of Santa Clarita.''

judy.orourke(at)dailynews.com

(661) 257-5255

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(ran in AV edition only) Rick Shapiro, Cemex vice president of public affairs, center, listens as Santa Clarita Mayor Pro-tem Laurene Weste announces the city will work with the mining company in hopes of coming to a mutual agreement about the future of a planned gravel mine.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 7, 2007
Words:591
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