Cemex protest 2

A young boy, on Jan. 16, finishes dumping one of the last bags of Cemex/Marina sand that activists brought to a protest. 

The meeting felt historic, and indeed, it was: Today, at CSU Monterey Bay's World Theater, the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved an order—which Cemex has also agreed to—that will shut down sand mining at the company's mine in Marina by the end of 2020. 

After that, Cemex will have three years to sell off any remaining stockpiled sand, and will then have to sell the 400-acre property to a nonprofit or public agency to be used for conservation and recreation in perpetuity. 

The commission's vote was followed by a sustained applause, and scores of activists and public officials began congratulating each other for what is widely seen as the best possible outcome to a very complicated problem. 

Just before the vote, Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth commended the agency's enforcement team for their diligent and thorough work, and said, "This is truly a historic decision, and one of the most significant accomplishments in a long list of accomplishments of the Coastal Commission.

"To phase out the last coastal sand mine in the United States…is an incredible achievement."

Some form of sand mining has occurred on the property—which Cemex acquired in 2005—since 1906, and scientists have argued for decades that it is the leading cause of erosion in southern Monterey Bay.  

Coastal Commission Enforcement Officer Justin Buhr presented to commissioners at the July 13 meeting, and he laid out the history of the mine in detail with a PowerPoint presentation that showed the mine's erosion impacts over time. 

He and others on the enforcement team seem to have turned over every stone in their investigation, and remarkably, were able to establish the mining at the site was taking 293,000 tons of sand annually from the beach, based on reporting from the Monterey Bay Air Pollution Control District. 

World-renowned coastal engineer Ed Thornton, a retired Naval Postgraduate School professor who has led the fight against local sand mining for more than 30 years, told commissioners he was happy to see that number was within 2-percent of his own estimates. (Cemex is not legally required to report the amount of sand it mines.)

Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado gave a stirring speech, and various other groups made their voices heard—including Cemex—all in support of approving the agreement. 

Those included the offices of State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, State Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, the State Lands Commission—which also recently took action against the Cemex mine—and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

Speakers from the Big Sur Land Trust and Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District also spoke in support of the agreement. MPRPD owns land on the southern boundary of the property, and BSLT owns land on its northern boundary, and both could acquire some or all of the property. 

The list of others who spoke in support of the agreement is long, and included two local nonprofits that have led the fight in recent years: The Monterey chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which helped lead the fight since early 2015, and Santa Cruz-based Save Our Shores, which has made the mine its primary issue since early 2016. 

The two organizations collaborated to bring together activists to continue to apply pressure on the Coastal Commission staff—which has been investigating the Cemex mine since 2010—to shut the mine down. 

Gary Griggs, an earth sciences professor at UC Santa Cruz, who's been studying the local coastline for a half-century, said there's no way the amount of mining done by Cemex cannot negatively impact the local coast. 

Thornton, who outlined points he made to the commission in December 2015, added that he'd recently solicited an assessment from Phil King, an economics professor at San Francisco State University, on the economic impacts of the mining operation. 

King's projections: Economic loss to the region from the operation—land, habitat, infrastructure, recreation, etc.—would amount to about $218 million between now and 2030, and $757 million between now and 2100.

In making a motion to approve the consent order, commissioner Mary Shallenberger, after thanking the agency's enforcement staff, said, "This is really momentous. I’m happy to be here to see it."

Nearly everyone else in the theater seemed to agree, and after the vote, it was all handshaking, hugging and high-fives.

And smiles. 

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