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MISSING THE APPEAL AGENCIES FAIL TO JOIN MINE OPPOSITION.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Neither the Castaic Lake Water Agency nor the Newhall County Water District joined the city's appeal of the federal government's approval of a proposed sand and gravel mining pit in Canyon Country.

City officials said they were disappointed that the water agencies did not sign on to their appeal of the federal Bureau of Land Management's August approval of the 460-acre mine proposed by Transit Mixed Concrete, of Asuza, along with a dozen other local agencies, groups and organizations.

The boards of both agencies had informed the BLM that they intended to appeal the decision, but did not follow through on their own and did not join the city's appeal, a BLM spokeswoman said.

Tom Shollenberger, the general manager of the Newhall County Water District said an ``oversight'' resulted in his agency's failure to join the appeal.

Robert Sagehorn, the general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency said the city did not ask the wholesaler to join its appeal or file one of its own.

Deputy City Manager Rick Putnam said the city informed both agencies of the planned appeal and the deadline, but was told that they had both decided not to join with the city. Neither agency gave the city a reason, he added.

``It's not a huge blow to our effort,'' Putnam said. ``But it would have been nice if we could have remained in step.''

At issue is a proposal by TMC to mine 78 million tons from the hillside, south of the Antelope Valley Freeway between Agua Dulce and Soledad Canyon roads. TMC would pay the federal government $28 million for the mining rights.

Proponents of the mine say that without additional sources of sand and gravel, which is used to make concrete, construction and public works projects will grind to a halt all over Southern California.

City officials and opponents say the mine would pollute the air, threaten the economy of the valley and choke freeways with truck traffic, in addition to threatening the area's water supply and harming the river.

Both Shollenberger and Sagehorn said the water agencies remain committed in their opposition to the mine and in their support of the city. Elected representatives from both agencies plan to testify Jan. 23 against the mine in front of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which will decide whether to issue TMC several necessary permits.

A critic of both agencies said the CLWA and NCWD did not sign onto the appeal because a city-commissioned study found that the mine will overdraw the Santa Clara River and destroy the habitat of two rare species, the unarmored three-spine stickleback fish and the spineflower. That study was included in the appeal and disputes local water studies that show no potential water shortages exist as planners prepare for proposed development.

``It just makes me so angry that they are playing politics over an issue that is so important to the life and health of our valley,'' said Lynne Plambeck, a frequent critic of the CLWA and an elected member of the Newhall board of directors.

Sagehorn said Plambeck's claim was false; Shollenberger declined to respond.

Both agencies have been adamant that there is enough water in the Santa Clarita Valley to support nearly 40,000 new homes - 1,500 of which are within a few miles of the proposed mine.

If the water agencies had joined in the appeal, they would have been tacitly agreeing that there is not enough water for all those homes, according to Andy Fried, the president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc., a group formed to fight the mine.

``I'm outraged, and disappointed that the water agencies are playing games with a very valuable resource - the river,'' Fried said.

Shollenberger said he was concerned that the city's estimates of the water supply were too low, and had asked the city to verify them. He said he never heard back from city officials.

``I'm confident that there is more water flowing through there than the city shows,'' Shollenberger said.

Because of those concerns, he said he could not endorse the city's concerns about the effect the mine would have on the Santa Clara River and the rare fish and flowers. But, he said, that was not why the NCWD failed to file an appeal.

``The numbers just don't add up,'' Shollenberger said. ``It is unclear how much water is there, how much water the mine is going to use and where they intend to get it.''

Sagehorn said the CLWA has not evaluated the city-sponsored study.

``We neither endorse it nor are we critical of it,'' Sagehorn said.

A correlation between the water supply for the mine and a supply for any potential homes is inappropriate, Sagehorn said, because any housing development would rely on a combination of imported state water and groundwater.

The mine would rely completely on groundwater, plans show.

The city also contends that TMC's plan to use recycled water for dust control purposes will raise the level of chloride in the Santa Clara River, threatening the entire ecosystem as well as avocado and strawberry fields in Ventura County.

The CLWA supports that claim, Sagehorn said.

A biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 found that the mine would not harm the stickleback or the spineflower. The BLM's approval of the mine requires TMC to monitor the level of the river and cut back or shut down operations if it drops to a level that would affect the stickleback.

``We think that decision is very clear and accurate,'' said Brian Mastin, TMC's environmental affairs manager.

Earlier, the city filed suit against both the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming they had violated both the Endangered Species Act and another federal law when they approved the mine without studying the possible effects on the stickleback and the spineflower.

Groups joining Santa Clarita's petition efforts

appeal efforts Ten agencies, groups and organizations that joined with the city of Santa Clarita's appeal of the federal government's approval of a proposed sand and gravel mine in Canyon Country. Several others, including the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, filed separate appeals.

--Acton/Aqua Dulce Unified School District

--Aqua Dulce Town Council

--Curtis Sand and Gravel

--William S. Hart Union High School District

--U.S. Rep. Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon, R-Santa Clarita

--Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce

--Safe Action for the Environment Inc.

--Sierra Club--Southland Association of Realtors

--Sulphur Springs School District.

CAPTION(S):

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Box: Groups joining Santa Clarita's petition efforts (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 15, 2001
Words:1099
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