California Nearing Deal to Shut Down Last Sand Mine

MARINA, Calif. (CN) – The California Coastal Commission has reached a tentative settlement with a sand mining company that would lead to the shuttering of a controversial sand-removal operation that residents say is eroding the coast of Monterey Bay.

A proposed settlement between the coastal commission and Cemex calls for the Mexican-based company to resolve any financial liabilities associated with the property and to forfeit the right to continue its mining operation.

Local residents in Marina, where the mine is located just a few miles north of Monterey, have been calling for the closure of the mine for years, saying its continued operation is leading to significant beach erosion in the area — losing as much as four feet annually, according to scientific studies.

Cemex uses the sand in concrete. Its Lapis plant in Marina is the last remaining sand mine on the West Coast.

“We have long sought a solution here to stop the loss of sand, and to protect the beaches in the Monterey Bay,” said Lisa Haage, chief enforcement officer for the California Coastal Commission. “Sand plays a critical role for both recreation and protection from sea level rise, and as habitat for endangered species such as the snowy plover.”

The coastal commission first threatened Cemex with a cease-and-desist letter in March 2016, setting off negotiations that culminated in the proposed settlement.

For the settlement to become officials, a majority of the 12 voting commissioners must approve the settlement during July’s board meeting to be held in Monterey.

The California State Public Lands Commission joined the fray in May, demanding Cemex either start paying royalties dictated by a 1964 agreement or shut down the plant entirely.

The public pressure combined with leverage exerted by state agencies apparently led Cemex to the negotiating table.

Along with shuttering the plant, the coastal commission said the settlement stipulates the company must perform reclamation activities at the site and provide for the transfer of the property at a reduced price to a nonprofit or government entity, subject to approval by the commission.

“If the settlement is approved, we look forward to working with the community on designing future uses of the property that provide for public access, conservation, habitat protection and public education,” Haage said.

In the meantime, Cemex will be bound to the agreement which sets forth the amount of sand that can be removed from the mine as operations wind down.

In a statement emailed to Courthouse News, Cemex said it has agreed to wind down operations at the sand plant, but says the reason for coastal erosion is complex.

“The Lapis sand plant has been in operation for more than 110 years, and each day, it adheres to CEMEX’s principles to operate responsibly,” the company said through a spokesman. “Claims that attribute erosion to the Lapis operation oversimplify the issue.”

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