Editors Note 2:30pm June 27: This story has been updated to include details of the agreement released Tuesday morning by the Coastal Commission.
For activists hoping to shut down the Cemex sand mine in Marina, it’s cause for celebration.
The California Coastal Commission, which threatened to issue a cease-and-desist order against the mining operation in March 2016, announced Monday it has reached a proposed settlement agreement with Cemex—a Mexico-based cement manufacturer—to shut down the sand extraction at the mine.
A day later, they revealed details of the agreement: Cemex will be allowed to extract a limited amount of sand through the end of 2020.
The mine is the last remaining coastal sand mine in the United States, and scientists believe it is causing an average of about 4 feet of erosion annually from the Salinas River to Monterey.
The settlement agreement, which was released June 27, will be presented to the Coastal Commission for approval July 13 at the commission’s monthly meeting, and will allow Cemex to continue sand extraction of up to 177,000 cubic yards a year until the end of 2020.
That amount is about a 30-percent reduction from what the operation is currently mining, according to recent estimates by Ed Thornton, a world-renowned coastal engineer and retired Naval Postgraduate School professor who has been a critic of local sand mining since the 1980s.
The settlement is contingent on the sign-off of the city of Marina and the State Lands Commission—both of which recently took separate legal actions to potentially shut down the mine—and pending Coastal Commission approval in July, the agreement would still not go into effect until the State Lands Commission approves it at an Aug. 17 meeting. The city of Marina has already approved it.
Per the proposed agreement, Cemex will have to restore the 400-acre property and sell it at a reduced price to a Coastal Commission-approved nonprofit or government agency. In the appraisal of the property, its value as a sand mine cannot be taken into account, and it can only sell for a maximum of 80-percent of the value of its appraised price.
The 20-percent discount, says Coastal Commission Chief of Enforcement Lisa Haage, will be offered in lieu of Cemex’s financial liabilities to the Coastal Commission for alleged Coastal Act violations.
Furthermore, failure by Cemex to hit its restoration benchmarks will make the company liable for fines of $10,000 per day—“Which is huge,” Haage says—regardless of whether the violations are later remediated.
The land must also be used for a limited set of purposes that include public access, conservation, low-impact recreation and public education.
Haage says that a number of groups have come forward and expressed interest in the site, including the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District and the Big Sur Land Trust, both of which have land adjacent to the Cemex property.
“It’s early days, and a lot of people have really great ideas,” Haage says. “We think it’s a great opportunity."
In a statement on June 25, Haage offered a similarly positive outlook on the agreement:
"We have long sought a solution here to stop the loss of sand, and to protect the beaches in the Monterey Bay. 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.
"But equally exciting is the fact that this agreement provides for a reduced price sale of the whole property in the near future, and for it to be protected in perpetuity," she continues. "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."
The proposed settlement would bring an end to a seven-year-long investigation of the mine by the Coastal Commission's enforcement division, an investigation that was spurred by the persistent activism of local coastal engineer Ed Thornton.
"It’s a victory," Thornton says of the proposed settlement agreement. “We’re all happy with it.”
Kevin Miller, board chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s Monterey chapter, says, “I feel like it is as good a deal as we were going to get. The Coastal Commission staff have done a tremendous amount of work, and we're very appreciative of them for this.
"It’s better than years of litigation if the commission had made a unilateral decision,” Miller continues. “With the agreement, we’ll know what happens when, and it’s ensuring the land doesn’t become a hotel."
Katherina O’Dea, executive director of Save Our Shores, the Santa Cruz-based marine conservation nonprofit that’s joined the fight against the Cemex mine for the last year-and-a-half, is likewise pleased.
"It’s really a win-win," O’Dea says. "I’m pretty excited about it, and I think our constituents should be pretty pleased."
In particular, O’Dea is happy the land will be put to conservation and recreation uses, but without that, she’d "be a little uneasy about claiming victory."
Cemex, in a statement, disputes the mine's erosion impacts, but acknowledges the proposed settlement.
"Cemex always strives to be a good neighbor and address the concerns of people in the communities in which we live and operate," the statement reads, adding that the company has been working to reach an agreement with the Coastal Commission for years, and more recently, the State Lands Commission and the city of Marina.
"To that end, Cemex has agreed to phase out the [Marina sand mine] operation over the coming years," it concludes.
The settlement is a surprising twist in a story that, for activists, has a happy ending: On June 23, the Coastal Commission’s agenda showed the agency was set to issue a cease-and-desist order against Cemex.
That would likely have led to years of litigation.
On June 24, a proposed settlement was reached, and the agenda was changed June 24 to notify the agreement, the details of which were not released until June 27.
Despite the apparent victory, activists want to see CSUMB’s World Theater packed on July 13 when the commissioners are set to meet there and consider whether to approve the settlement.
“If we have hundreds of people in the room, we can have a victory dance after that,” O’Dea says.