SANTA CLARITA – Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon said Wednesday he will introduce a bill in Congress today to cancel Cemex’s lease to mine 56.1 million tons of sand and gravel in Soledad Canyon – a project the city has spent $6 million battling – and limiting any future mining at the site to historic levels of 300,000 tons a year. But McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, acknowledged in a phone interview the measure’s chances of passage are slim. Still, it was time to take action, he said. “We held off introducing the bill, trying to work out a solution between the city (of Santa Clarita) and Cemex,” McKeon said. “When it appeared Cemex was probably not going to support the legislation, we had to move ahead.” McKeon advised Cemex’s President Gilberto Perez of the move in the past couple of weeks, but the news failed to yield a compromise from the company, which earlier this month said plans are under way to start mining in the next two years. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2The Mexico-based Cemex’s U.S. holdings include 12 cement plants, 270 ready-mix operations and 40 terminals. U.S. sales of $1.04 billion in 2005 surpassed those in Mexico for the first time, said company spokeswoman Susana Duarte earlier. “It’s a gold mine – in aggregate – but it’s a gold mine,” McKeon said. If the bill is passed, mining leases signed between Cemex and the Bureau of Land Management in 1990 would be canceled and the company would be reimbursed for its “expenses and their troubles,” McKeon said. In 2000, the agency awarded Transit Mixed Concrete Co. mining contracts for 20 years in return for $28 million in royalties; Cemex later bought TMC. The proposed mine is in county territory between Canyon Country and Agua Dulce, but the city has battled it claiming it will pollute Santa Clarita’s air and add heavy truck traffic to local roads. The county had rejected the mine, but conceded when Cemex filed a lawsuit in federal court. County supervisors granted the mining permit in June 2004 under a court-approved consent decree, which was upheld by the 9th U.S. District Circuit Court of Appeals in February. While talks continued behind the scenes, the city lodged three lawsuits against Cemex – among the top three cement makers worldwide. The city bought the land above the mine and is attempting to annex 1,885 acres, which includes the area where the mine is proposed. If residents of the Stonecrest neighborhood decide to annex into the city, officials could use the territory as a land bridge to the acreage above the mine. Cemex filed a lawsuit in state court in December, challenging an environmental review in the city’s annexation proposal. Cemex expects to begin operating the mine in 2008 and could mine 70 million tons of sand and gravel over the next 20 years, with up to 1,200 truck trips a day in and out. In the first decade, 2 million tons could be mined each year, increasing to 4 million to 5 million tons a year over the next decade. McKeon said his efforts over the past two years to try to strike a compromise between the city and Cemex have stalled, and last year, the BLM’s director, Kathleen Clark, told him the agency could not work on the deal. “The bill is controversial. It sets a precedent the BLM would not want to see established,” McKeon said, acknowledging its chances of passage are not very high. “This bill will have a rough time getting out of House. Cemex will furiously oppose the bill.” Cemex’s options are many. The company could contact Congress members who represent districts where the company has interests or it could hire lobby firms and form a partnership with the BLM. To pass the bill, the government would have to buy out the contract. McKeon said the agency would not want to give up the money. The congressman presides over one of the biggest geographical districts in California, which includes the most BLM acreage in the state. Searches for comparable mineral deposits in McKeon’s district or adjoining areas failed to match the size of Santa Clarita’s deposit – the second largest deposit was 3 million tons, and with high transportation costs, proximity to the huge demand in Southern California is critical. McKeon said he has followed through with the bill to be responsive to his constituent, the city. “While I think it has a very slim chance of passing, that doesn’t mean I don’t give it my best effort,” he said. “It might help in furthering some negotiation between the city and Cemex.” [email protected] (661) 257-5255160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!