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U.S. Agency Delivers Setback to Plans for Gravel Mine Project

Environment: Officials decide to reevaluate mining's impact on a rare toad in the Santa Clarita Valley.

July 07, 2001|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dealing another blow to a Mexican mining conglomerate's bid to build a 78-million-ton gravel mine in the Santa Clarita Valley, the federal Bureau of Land Management announced Friday it will reevaluate the project's impact on the endangered arroyo toad.

The BLM, which owns surface mining rights to the property, approved the project last August. But federal officials will revisit the issue in the wake of the May 22 discovery of arroyo toad tadpoles in a pond along the Santa Clara River, outside the mining site but within the southeastern portion of the project.

Until this year there had been no evidence of the arroyo toad within the 460-acre project area, situated along the Antelope Valley Freeway, south of Agua Dulce and just east of the Santa Clarita city limits.

The small toad--distinguished by wart-covered skin that is either light green, gray or tan--was listed as endangered in 1994.

Now, as part of its review, the BLM will prepare a "biological assessment" within 30 days, detailing discovery of the toad and its potential effect on the mining project for a report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM spokesman Doran Sanchez said.

Fish and Wildlife officials will then have 135 days to complete a biological opinion to assess whether the arroyo toad would be jeopardized by the project and if further environmental studies or documents would be required.

Santa Clarita city spokesman Rick Putnam said he welcomed the BLM move but lamented the review had not gone far enough because it focused solely on the toad and not other endangered species that might be on the site.

"The initial biological assessment omitted the toad as an existing on-site species," Putnam said. "That raises the question of whether or not other species were casually passed over and the overall inadequacy of the environmental assessment."

Transit Mixed, owned by international mining giant Cemex of Mexico, needs the sand and gravel--also called aggregate--to meet demand in the county, where builders could deplete the current supply by 2015.

Officials said the aggregate used in home and road construction sells for an average of $6 per ton, with big-rig trucks carrying about 25 tons per trip. Transit Mixed's mining plan would add up to 47 trucks an hour to the heavily traveled Antelope Valley and Golden State freeways.

Santa Clarita is not alone in its opposition to the project. The mine plan called for unearthing about 68 million tons of sand and gravel in Soledad Canyon. That proposal was rejected in April by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in a 4-0 vote.

The board will take up the overall mine issue again Aug. 28 when it considers mitigation measures as well as the potential impact resulting from identification of the rare toad.

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