Sand Stall

Bulldozers are a frequent sight at the Cemex sand mine, and are used to move the anchors of the dredge boat.

The Cemex sand mine in Marina is nowhere near shutting down. Instead, it appears to be ramping up.

The mine, which scientists have identified as the reason southern Monterey Bay has the highest coastal erosion rate in the state, has been in operation in a dredge pond on a beach in Marina since around 1965. The mine has long avoided regulation by both state and federal agencies because the pond appears to be above the mean high tide line.

Recently, however, regulation appeared imminent. The California Coastal Commission, which had been investigating the mine for about six years, sent a letter to Cemex last March outlining several ways in which the mine violates the California Coastal Act, and threatened to shut the operation down if the violations continued.

In the subsequent months, officials in the agency’s enforcement division indicated they expected some form of action to go on a Coastal Commission agenda by the end of 2016.

That never happened.

As for when it might happen, Noaki Schwartz, a spokesperson for the commission, writes by email, “Our enforcement program is continuing to work on this matter as a top priority and we expect to bring it before the commission for resolution at a hearing close to Monterey County in the near future.”

Based on the commission’s 2017 meeting schedule, the earliest date that could happen is April, when the commission meets in the North Central district, which stretches from Sonoma County to the northern border of Santa Cruz County.

Despite the bureaucratic slowdown, there has been action behind the scenes.

Ed Thornton, a retired coastal engineer at Naval Postgraduate School, published a paper in October in the scientific journal Marine Geology that identified the mine as the only reason there is a net coastal erosion in southern Monterey Bay. The amount of sand Cemex extracts from the mine is not public information, so Thornton’s paper utilized an annual mining rate of 220,000 cubic yards, which Cemex disclosed to the Weekly in 2006.

This year, however, Thornton has been surveying the pond regularly and calculates the current rate of mining to be about 380,000 cubic yards per year – enough to cover roughly 70 football fields with 3 feet of sand. At that rate, he calculates, the mine is responsible for the loss of about 14 acres of coastal land annually.

Added to that, Cemex replaced its dredge boat in November, which Thornton equates to giving the Coastal Commission “the finger.”

“I was really disappointed when I saw this development,” he says. “The old boat lasted 31 years. Do they hope to be in business another 31 years?”

Cemex invited select people to tour the mine in early fall, including Marina residents Kathy Biala and Karyn Wolfe, both of whom are vocal critics of the mine. They say Cemex officials claimed the mine wasn’t causing erosion, and that the company – in response to a threatened shutdown – could sell the land to a hotel developer.

According to Ximena Waissbluth, a board member of the Monterey chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, the regulatory focus has now shifted to the State Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction of all coastal land above the mean high tide line.

To that end, in early December, the Surfrider Foundation initiated frequent monitoring of the site by volunteers to establish the dredge pond’s location relative to the mean high tide line.

If they can prove the pond is below the mean high tide line, it could spur the State Lands Commission to take action and shut the operation down.

Waissbluth hopes the Coastal Commission will eventually act, once their evidence is “airtight.”

Surfrider, in conjunction with Santa Cruz-based nonprofit Save Our Shores, has planned a protest at the dredge pond on Jan. 16 at 10am.

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