Sands of Time

A look at the Cemex sand mine from the gate as it continues to operate.

For the Cemex sand mine in Marina, and for those calling for it to be shut down, the hourglass may almost be out of sand.

About 50 coastal advocates descended on the Aug. 10 California Coastal Commission meeting in Scotts Valley, urging the agency to expedite its effort to shut the mine down. They held signs reading “cease and desist” and “take a stand, save our sand.”

Their urgency comes five months after commission staff sent a notice of intent letter to Cemex on March 17, informing the company the commission plans to shut the mine down for violating six different sections of the California Coastal Act. That letter came after a roughly six-year investigation by the Coastal Commission into the mine, which is the only remaining coastal sand mine in the U.S., and has been widely cited by scientists as the primary reason southern Monterey Bay has the highest coastal erosion rate in the state.

In a 2015 paper (which has been peer-reviewed but not yet published), Edward Thornton, a retired coastal engineer with the Naval Postgraduate School, argues the mine is causing a net coastal erosion – from Monterey to the Salinas River – of about 7 feet annually. (In southern Monterey Bay, the average erosion rate is 4 feet annually. Based on historical data, Thornton argues that if the mine were shut down, beaches would grow 3 feet annually.)

Thornton, whose earlier findings sparked the outset of the Coastal Commission’s investigation in 2009, was among those who spoke before the commission Aug. 10.

“Today, this mine is responsible for the loss of more than 8 acres of shoreline every year,” he said. “Since 1965, it is estimated this mine is responsible for the loss of almost 400 acres of coast from the Salinas River to Monterey.”

Members from nonprofits Save Our Shores and the Surfrider Foundation also called for action on the mine, as did elected and appointed officials from Marina.

Marina resident Kathy Biala spoke holding an empty bag of Cemex sand she bought at Home Depot for $4.15. She said she and her husband emptied the bag on Marina State Beach, “our contribution to beach replenishment.”

Commissioner Steve Kinsey asked the commission’s chief of enforcement, Lisa Haage, for an update about ongoing negotiations to shut down the mine. Haage said the issue remains a top priority and that meetings with Cemex are ongoing.

“We anticipate bringing an order back to you for formal action later this year,” she said. That order, Haage added, would either be a consent order – one which Cemex agrees to – or a unilateral order, which it wouldn’t agree to.

Haage says there are many possibilities for what might come next, and an order to shutter the mine could include restoration of the site and enhancing public access.

She adds, however, that even an order to shut the mine down is not certain, and that much is being negotiated.

“For right now, everything is on the table,” she says.

When asked how a settlement allowing the mine to carry on – perhaps at a lesser degree of mining – would not be in violation of the Coastal Act, she said she could not get into the legal details.

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