U.S. Court of Appeals ruling paves way for California sand and mining project operation

News ARTBA February 22, 2006
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The U.S. transportation construction industry earned an important victory on Feb. 10, when a federal appeals court upheld a consent decree that will allow aggregate mining operation to commence at a southern California mining site.

Aggregate is the principle ingredient in concrete—a key material used on transportation improvement projects across America. The decision could help increase supply in the highway construction materials market.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), joined by the Portland Cement Association, American Concrete Pavement Association and the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, submitted a “friend of the court” brief in late 2004.

The litigation involved a project that began in 1990 when—with the approval of the Bureau of Land Management—CEMEX Inc. purchased the federal government’s right to sand and gravel operations in the Soledad Canyon area of Los Angeles. Despite extensive and multi-year environmental reviews, local officials continued to file numerous legal challenges to delay the project from moving forward.

In 2002, CEMEX filed suit against Los Angeles County. The U.S. Justice Department intervened on CEMEX’s side nine months later, arguing the country’s delay in approving the project interfered with the federal government’s program for the sale of federally owned mineral materials.

The parties reached an agreement after more than a year of mediation. Following multiple objections by the city of Santa Clarita, which had been granted intervener status in the case, the District Court approved the decree on May 20, 2004 and entered the judgment. Santa Clarita officials appealed the ruling to the ninth circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected their arguments last week.

In the legal brief, ARTBA and its industry allies underscored the importance of consent decrees in resolving litigation in environmental matters and highlighted the economic importance of ensuring reasonable access to domestically available building materials such as sand, gravel and other products. The groups also argued that the federal law that the consent decree is based upon preempted any further delays of CEMEX’s project at the state and county level.

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