For Now, Coastal Commission Opts For Drawn-Out Talks Over Litigation With CEMEX in Marina

Jun 23, 2016

Today the owners of the CEMEX Sand Mine in Marina will miss yet another deadline to formally respond to the California Coastal Commission.  The sand mine has been operating on the coast of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary without a permit, but the Commission only recently took action. 

The California Coastal Commission made the first move toward shutting down the CEMEX Sand Mine in Marina back in March.  That’s when it issued a Notice of Intent to Commence a Cease and Desist Order.  Next CEMEX, the mine’s owner, was supposed to respond with a Statement of Defense (SOD).

Three months later, that still hasn’t happened.

Deadlines have come and gone, and been extended with no formal response from CEMEX.  But in an email a spokesperson for Coastal Commission says the two groups have been talking.

“Extending the SOD deadlines is very typical in our continued approach to try to resolve violations without the need for protracted and expensive litigation,” wrote Noaki Schwartz, Public Information Officer for the California Coastal Commission.  “If we cannot resolve outstanding issues via this consent order process we do move forward with a regular order to compel compliance with the Coastal Act,”

In some respects it’s playing out as expected.

“I think CEMEX will fight this,” said Ximena Waissbluth shortly after the Coastal Commission issued its notice of intent.  She’s chair of the Surfrider Foundation Monterey Chapter.

“We want the sand mining to stop.  I get it.  It’s a really great business model. You know, take something for free and then you sell it.  But it’s not good for the 99%, or pretty much everyone else who is not in the business,” said Waissbluth.

CEMEX has a pond above the mean high tide line in Marina. The City asked the Coastal commission to take the lead in enforcement.

Here's how the mine works.  During high water events, waves wash sand into the pond.  From there, a dredge boat pumps it out.  Unlike most mines which eventually run out of resources.  This one is essentially renewable.

“I call this the magic pond because it’s a very efficient business model.  When you fill up this whole pond.  You are filling up about 200,000 cubic yards of sand. And that’s what they’re mining each year,” said retired Naval Postgraduate School professor Ed Thornton who has been studying sand mining and erosion in the Monterey Bay Area for decades.

He says the mine is the primary reason why the southern Monterey Bay has the highest erosion rate in the state of California.  It’s averaging a loss of about four feet of beach per year.

Thornton first alerted the Coastal Commission to his concerns about the sand mine back in 2009, which eventually led to this year’s action.  The Commission found at least five violations, and in March it took that first step toward a cease and desist order.

“ The cease and desist order does have teeth.  For each violation, the fine for not remedying the violation is about $11,000 a day. That works out for all five violations $20-million a year. $20-million,” said Thornton.

According to Coastal Commission spokesperson Noaki Schwartz, there is no new deadline for CEMEX to issue its statement of defense, but talks continue.   In the meantime, CEMEX continues to mine in Marina. 

“It’s like any other natural resource that’s over exploited and you don’t know it until it’s too late.  It’s like the water until the river runs dry.  The sardines until the fishery collapses.  The sand until the beaches are gone,” said Ximena Waissbluth.

Separately from the Coastal Commission’s action, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is exploring if it has any jurisdictional authority over the mine.  The CEMEX Sand Mine in Marina is the only coastal sand mine in the U.S.