Surfriders Monitor CEMEX Sand Mine While Negotiations Continue

Feb 2, 2017

The last coastal sand mining plant in the nation remains open in Marina.  It has operated largely unregulated for decades. Then nearly a year ago, the California Coastal Commission put the CEMEX Sand Mine on notice, saying it violates the Coastal Act.   

The two have been in negotiations ever since.  In the meantime, those who want to see the mine shutdown are keeping a watchful eye on operations.

Kevin Miller walks against the wind along the beach in Marina.  He’s headed toward the CEMEX sand mine.   

“This mine has been in operation for a long time under no scrutiny really, and I think it’s time for that to change,” says Miller.

So the Surfrider Foundation’s Monterey Chapter started a mine monitoring program.  Miller is the group’s chair.  Several times a week he, or another volunteer, makes this trip to keep tabs on CEMEX.

As we reach the mine, he points to a pond on the far side of the beach.  It’s source for the mine’s sand.   A dredge boat normally floating on top helps pump it out.

“The dredge is still out,” says Miller.

When the dredge is out, the mining stops.  And the Surfrider’s mine monitors say it’s been out of the water and sitting on a nearby dune for a couple of months.   In fact more recent storms wiped away the pond all together.  Still Miller expects mining to resume. 

CEMEX declined to do an interview for this story. 

Miller pulls out his smartphone and starts taking pictures.   He’ll pass them on to agencies like the State Lands Commission and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  Both are evaluating whether they have any grounds to regulate CEMEX. 

So right now the first thing we look for is a channel, which obviously there’s not channel right now,” says Miller.

A channel is a connection between the pond and ocean.  It can happen after a high tide or heavy storm and could provide a legal basis for federal action against the mine.

“Well any exchange between that pit and the ocean is of interest to us,” says Scott Kathey, Federal Regulatory Coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

“Because then you’ve got an exchange, you’ve got a discharge of water from a mining pit into the National Marine Sanctuary.  And we have federal regulations prohibiting any kind of discharge into the Sanctuary particularly from a human source like that,” says Kathey.

An exchange is also how the mine works.   It’s replenished every time waves push sand into the pond.  Kathey says its sand that would otherwise work its way down the coast into the Southern Monterey Bay, an area with the highest rate of erosion in the state.

“And that sand is originating from the Marine Sanctuary, and it is a Marine Sanctuary resource.  So that’s something that we are looking at as well.  Is, does that constitute a take of resources that belong to the people of the United States from within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary,” says Kathey.

If it turns out the Sanctuary does have jurisdiction, Kathey says they could take action through penalties or by compelling CEMEX to apply for a permit.

Walking back down the beach, the Surfrider’s Kevin Miller says he’s not discouraged by the fact that ten months have passed since the California Coastal Commission issued its notice of intent.  The first step toward potentially shutting down the mine.  It’s been in negotiations with CEMEX ever since .

“I don’t believe they would negotiate if they felt 100% that they wouldn’t be closed,” says Miller. “So I think their own actions have indicated that they think they are on pretty shaky ground.”

A spokesperson for the California Coastal Commission says they hope for a resolution soon.  Its next meeting near the central coast is in April. 

Until then, the Surfriders will keep monitoring the mine.