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EGCA warns of local sand and rock shortages

San Diego residents are sitting on mountains of rock and rivers of sand, so why are we importing aggregate and sand from all the counties surrounding San Diego, including as far away as Canada and Mexico? Trucking non-native building materials can double their costs and create additional traffic and air pollution in their transportation from distant sources and contributes to climate change.

Rock and sand are nonreplenishable natural resources, and the permitted portions are being rapidly depleted in California, particularly in San Diego County. The two major suppliers of nonrecycled and recycled aggregate rock and sand materials -- and of asphalt -- are Engineering & General Contractor Association (EGCA) members Hanson Aggregates and Vulcan Materials. Both are well-capitalized nationwide firms with significant mining interests and investments in the industry. Hanson is the largest aggregates supplier in the world, and Vulcan is the largest supplier of construction aggregates in the United States.

In 1980 there were 48 active aggregate producing sites in San Diego County, and today there are 14. But with no new mining permits having been issued in the county for the last two decades, and dozens of existing sites now closed, we are rapidly approaching a complete exhaustion of permitted native material sources.

"It's there," said EGCA board member Dain DeForest of Vulcan Materials, of the native aggregate needed by homeowners, cities and other public agencies. "But it is an uphill battle to get permission to go get it."

Current, nearly exhausted aggregate sources exist in Santee, Lakeside, Miramar and Carroll Canyon. In addition, a new granite construction company mine at Liberty Quarry near Rainbow Canyon in southern Riverside County is still years from potentially receiving permits, and encountering opposition from the local community and even from San Diego State University, which owns an ecological reserve nearby along the Santa Margarita River.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has begun consideration of the issue as part of its overall "conservation element" for the county, and staff has been researching the issue for the SANDAG board.

Now, according to the September 2007 draft document CE-41, the city of San Diego's vision is "to become an international model of sustainable development and conservation. To provide for the long-term conservation and sustainable management of the rich natural resources that help define the city's identity, contribute to its economy and improve its quality of life."

San Diego's important mineral resources include salt, sand and gravel, all of which have been produced in San Diego for many decades. Additionally, the 2007 city planning document states: "San Diego's aggregate mineral resources (sand and gravel) provide necessary materials for the local economy. Extraction of sand, rock and gravel began in Mission Valley in 1913. Extraction still occurs in Mission Valley and in other areas of the city such as Carroll Canyon and Mission Gorge. There are also mining operations within the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) sub-area plan, consisting mainly of sand, rock and gravel extraction using open pit mining."

It also said, "The use of locally mined materials for San Diego's development is desirable as it reduces the need for trucking materials over long distances. This, in turn, results in decreased energy use, fewer traffic, infrastructure and air quality impacts, as well as lower direct costs to the consumer and local government. Local use may also result in fewer direct mining environmental impacts to remote, less regulated areas outside the city."

"Due to competing demands for precious open lands, access to aggregate reserves in western San Diego County have significantly decreased over the past 20 years," the document added. "Urbanization, as well as the designation of lands within the MSCP, and the depletion of active mines, contributes to the shortage of materials. Reclamation and recycling of building materials must take on a greater importance in order to continue meeting our local needs. Recycling has the added benefit of reducing the amount of waste entering landfills."

But even the city's forward thinking plan went borderline NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) when it comes to river sand when it said, "new or expanded mining operations on lands conserved as part of the MHPA are incompatible with MSCP preserve goals for covered species and their habitats, unless otherwise agreed to by the wildlife agencies at the time the parcel is conserved."

Yet SANDAG's Mineral Use policy points out: "Urban pre-emption of prime mineral resource deposits and conflicts between mining and other uses throughout California led to passage of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA), which requires all cities and counties to incorporate in their General Plans the mapped designations approved by the state Mining and Geology Board."

Viable solutions must be found. The EGCA supports SANDAG's efforts to identify local sand and aggregate sources and make them available for local use. Forward-thinking citizens must support good public policy. For information visit www.egca.org.

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