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Sand mining at the Cemex plant in Marina ends ahead of deadline

In Marina, Cemex mined sand with a dredge boat in a lagoon by the beach, shown here at high tide. It’s a practice mine operators have employed at the site since 1965. Karen Loutzenheiser

Posted on December 8, 2020

Occupying part of the beach in Marina for decades, the last coastal sand mine in the United States has ceased operations, according to officials at the California Coastal Commission.

Cemex, a multinational company based in Mexico, notified the commission in mid-October that it had stopped mining sand at its Marina dredge pond, fulfilling the central requirement of a 2017 settlement agreement two-and-half months before the deadline of Dec. 31.

“Cemex has stopped removing sand from the beach environment, allowing sand that is part of the public trust to remain in place,” says Justin Buhr, an analyst with the commission’s enforcement arm. He says the presence of sand is important because it serves as a buffer against sea-level rise and provides habitat for various species. Erosion of the shoreline has been severe: “The area has some of the highest rates of erosion of any section of coastline in the state,” Buhr says. With no more mining, sand could start accumulating again from sediment deposited by the Salinas River. “The beach could actually grow larger,” he says.

Cemex stopped mining ahead of schedule either because it had already reached its quota under the settlement or out of business considerations. Buhr says the company has complied with the agreement, but he cannot disclose how much sand the company removed because the number is considered proprietary. Now, Cemex has three years to remove its sand stockpiles and take action to restore the habitat. Cemex representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

State officials moved to close the Cemex plant after a coalition of scientists, environmental groups and local residents organized a public campaign.

“I am so utterly happy that our shoreline is now safe,” says Kathy Biala, one of the key activists on the issue. Looking back, she hopes credit goes to the proper people. “The dignitaries didn’t know much,” she says. “It was ordinary people who were in touch with the Coastal Commission. They were the unsung heroes.”

Arguably, Biala is now a dignitary herself. She entered public life fighting for the closure of the Cemex plant. Four years later, she was elected to serve on Marina City Council, winning her seat on Nov. 3.

Biala recalls her involvement with a “small cadre of key activists who interacted with many state organizations,” highlighting representatives from Surfrider and Save Our Shores. But she reserves the special credit for Edward Thornton, a retired professor of oceanography at the Naval Postgraduate School. “Ed gave us the scientific evidence to be able to assert that the Cemex plant was the direct cause of [Monterey Bay] erosion rates,” she says.

Thornton published a report summarizing the evidence and the history of the site in 2018. He wrote that he learned “it takes a lot of people to make change happen.”

“Passionate scientists and engineers, enlightened and dedicated government agencies… and an involved and educated citizenry came together with a common goal to make a change,” he wrote.

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