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COUNTY BLOCKS MINING REJECTION SHIFTS FIGHT TO ATTORNEYS' ARENA.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES - The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday formally rejected plans for a 56.1-million-ton sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon, shifting the fight from the boardroom to the courtroom.

The unanimous decision, which came without any discussion, ends a nearly 20-month saga that city officials once feared was a lost cause.

``This is a major victory for the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley,'' said city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz. ``By no means is it over, but it sends a message.''

Representatives of Cemex Inc., the parent company of Azusa-based Transit Mixed Concrete Co., have long been looking past any action taken by the five supervisors to a courtroom showdown that will pit a 1916 federal law against the power of cities and counties to regulate surface mining within their borders.

``TMC will now attempt to gain in the courtroom what they couldn't acquire in the boardroom,'' said 5th District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. ``We're confident we can win in the courtroom.''

The fight over the mine began a decade ago, when the federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns the rights to the sand and gravel, awarded two 10-year contracts to TMC, allowing the company to mine 56.1 million tons of aggregate in return for royalty payments of $28 million.

City officials contend that the mine will have a devastating impact on the north Los Angeles County area by polluting the air, choking area roads and freeways with traffic, and threatening the Santa Clarita Valley's water supply.

However, company officials counter that the dozens of mitigation measures attached to the project will protect the environment, while most residents won't even know the mine exists.

Cemex officials have already sued the supervisors and county officials in United States District Court, claiming that their plans for the mine were precluded through a series of delays and unreasonable requirements engineered by Santa Clarita officials and Antonovich.

``Today's action is a perfect illustration of why we filed suit,'' said Cemex spokesman Brian Mastin.

The lawsuit, which was filed before the supervisors' initial decision in February to reject the mine, may need to be amended, Mastin said.

The 1916 law, which was upheld and broadened in a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision, holds that while ``the county can impose reasonable restrictions on the proposed mining operation, which are designed to protect the environment, it cannot determine that mining is prohibited on the contract area,'' according to David Nawi, the regional lawyer for the Department of the Interior.

Deputy Los Angeles County Counsel Richard D. Weiss said the supervisors' action is ``reasonable'' and conforms with the law, because Cemex representatives refused to cooperate with county officials and complete a necessary traffic analysis.

Mastin and other Cemex officials have insisted that because the company signed an agreement with the federal government to mine 56.1 million tons of sand and gravel, county officials cannot impose environmental regulations that will change the size and the scope of the mine significantly.

Federal officials are reviewing the supervisors' action and its impact on the BLM's approval of the mine, which is conditioned upon TMC receiving about a dozen permits from local and state agencies including the county, according to bureau spokesman Jan Bedrosian.

BLM officials remain confident that the project provides adequate environmental protections for the Santa Clarita Valley, Bedrosian said.

The tide seemed to turn in favor of the city when aides to Antonovich discovered discrepancies in the project's environmental impact report. The board later deemed the report's traffic analysis inadequate.

At the same time, the city continued its $1.5 million effort to defeat the mine.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 24, 2002
Words:608
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