MONTEREY, Calif. (CN) – Eyeing the last remaining coastal sand-mining operation, California regulators have sent a letter to the owner demanding it come into compliance with environmental regulators or stop operations.
The California State Public Lands Commission sent a letter to Mexico-based cement company Cemex, saying the Lapis Plant in Marina, California, must immediately obtain permits and pay California royalties per a 1964 agreement – or close its doors.
The letter is the latest front in a battle between residents of the Monterey Bay, who say the plant’s operations is leading to the rapid erosion of regional beaches, and the plant operators who argue mining sand from the site predates the Coastal Act and other regulations the state is attempting to apply.
“Stealing public resources for private profit without a lease is a violation of the state constitution and statute,” said Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who chairs the State Lands Commission. “This mine is a relic of an era that California and the nation rejected a long time ago, and it is past time that Cemex engage in a dialogue on the future of operations.”
For more than a year, heeding the increasingly large chorus of local residents opposed to the mine, the California Coastal Commission has been in negotiations with Cemex in an attempt forge a resolution to the problem.
“Cemex is one of the Coastal Commission’s highest priority cases and our enforcement staff has spent the last year in negotiation with representatives of the company, working long hours in an effort to resolve the situation,” Lisa Haage, the Coastal Commission’s chief of enforcement, said Tuesday. “We are deeply committed to this case and remain concerned about the loss of sand and the effect on beaches, access, habitat and infrastructure in the Monterey Bay, particularly in the light of the threat of sea-level rise.”
The State Lands Commission’s letter escalates pressure on Cemex to either scale back or close the plant.
According to the letter, Cemex uses a different process to mine the sand than when a permit was first issued to the company in 1964. The new process requires more environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
“Scientific research in the past decade has clarified that sand mined at the Lapis plant comes from offshore and that the dredge pond takes advantage of area wave patterns and beach topography to function as a vacuum, siphoning sand from below the mean high tideline, and trapping it in the dredge pond,” the letter states.
The State Lands Commission says by using this method, Cemex is taking a public resource for private material gain without compensating the state.
“Conversion of state minerals, including sand, is subject to civil liability and treble damages,” the letter states.
Katherine O’Dea, executive director for Save Our Shores – a marine conservation organization headquartered in Santa Cruz – praised the State Lands Commission for its “bold move.”
“We are extremely excited and cautiously optimistic that such definitive action is a major turning point in the journey toward full closure of the sand mine,” she said.
O’Dea said the mine extracts anywhere from 200,000 to 350,000 cubic yards of sand annually from the beach just north of Monterey.
“It is directly causing erosion of our beaches from Marina down to Monterey,” she said.
Her assertion is backed up by a peer-reviewed study published by Ed Thornton, a former coastal engineer for the Naval Postgraduate School, that concludes beaches from the Salinas River to Monterey are losing about 4 feet per year as a direct result of the mining operation.
Cemex released a statement Tuesday saying it has operated safely at the site for many years in concert with local regulations.
“The Lapis facility in Marina has been in consistent operation for more than 111 years,” the company said. “That the operation is a vested right and has all required entitlements to operate has been repeatedly confirmed over the last 50 years by numerous government entities.”