The fight to maintain Soledad Canyon as an unspoiled wilderness rages on, championed by Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon who introduced the Soledad Canyon Conservation and Management Act (H.R. 4332) on the floor of the House today.
This new legislation aims to resolve a mining dispute between the City of Santa Clarita and CEMEX USA. It both mirrors and improves upon the Soledad Canyon Mine Act, a bill that was introduced in April 2008 and involved a complicated exchange: if CEMEX abandoned its mineral rights to the property in Soledad Canyon near Acton, the Bureau of Land Management would make 5,000 acres of property available in Victorville, which CEMEX would then sell to the city of Victorville for redevelopment projects.
That legislation never came to a vote, held back by funding and support roadblocks, but the parties involved never let down the cause.
"We've addressed the concerns expressed by the Sierra Club and cleared up some of the technical aspects of the bill and involved the County of San Bernardino as well as the city of Victorville because some of the land was in the county area," explained Bob Hauter, McKeon's Deputy Chief of Staff. "This legislation directs the Bureau of Land Management to give the right of first refusal to Victorville and San Bernardino County and establishes a trust administered by the BLM to purchase any leases."
Protecting Soledad Canyon has been an ongoing struggle. The City of Santa Clarita has dedicated funding in each year's budget to the campaign, including a $196,000 line item in the 2009-2010 budget.
"After years of collaboration and deliberation, I'm pleased to announce the introduction of an enhanced legislative proposal that fulfills the needs of Santa Clarita and CEMEX, while also benefiting Southern California," said McKeon. "With the help of the City of Victorville and the County of San Bernardino, we have reached a good agreement. From here, I will begin the intricate process of shepherding the measure through the federal legislative process."
McKeon's legislative proposal would require the Secretary of the Interior to immediately cancel two 10-year Soledad Canyon mining contracts that CEMEX has with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, thereby ending the possibility of large-scale mining at the Soledad Canyon site.
"The City Council is deeply appreciative of Congressman McKeon's perseverance and diligence in crafting thoughtful legislation that reflects the needs and environmental concerns of his district," said Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste.
Under the legislation, the Secretary of Interior would determine the fair market value of the cancelled contracts and would sell BLM lands near Victorville. No mining would be allowed on these lands, and sale from the proceeds would compensate CEMEX for the cancellation of mining contracts.
Furthermore, the Act allows the Secretary of Interior to acquire environmentally-sensitive California lands for preservation. The land that would be sold under the legislation was carefully selected to ensure no environmentally-sensitive lands will be sold for development as part of this bill.
"We're pleased Congressman McKeon has once again taken a leadership role in advancing legislation that offers a positive solution to the City and CEMEX for the Soledad Canyon project. We are eager to work with the Congressman, California's Senators, the City of Santa Clarita, and others in pursuing its success in 2010," said Gilberto Perez, President of CEMEX USA.
In 1990, CEMEX leased the rights to mine Soledad Canyon for sand and gravel from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The City of Santa Clarita and CEMEX announced a truce in February 2007 and agreed to seek a legislative solution that would result in an acceptable outcome for all parties. The Soledad Canyon Conservation and Management Act is the product of this close cooperation and the desire for a mutually agreeable solution.
Hauter was quick to admit that this legislation is not a "slam dunk" to pass. the Congressman's staff plans to work over the holidays to circulate the bill to all members of both the House and the Senate in hopes that hearings can be scheduled in February when Congress gets back to work.
"We wish or hope that one of our senators would carry companion legislation in the Senate," Hauter said. "We're willing to spend the time trying to put together a coalition of support, but we know this will be an uphill battle. "