Picture your favorite beach. Now imagine a dump truck coming in, loading it up with sand, and driving away. Forty minutes later, it comes back and repeats the process. Another forty minutes and there it is again. Not only is your beach disappearing in front of your eyes, but it turns out that the stolen sand is a source of income for the company taking it. Yes, your public beach is literally being sold out from under you.
For residents of Monterey County, this is no make-believe threat. For decades, international sand-mining company CEMEX has been waging its own sand war on California’s shores. Beside the fact that CEMEX is directly harvesting a public resource for profit, the coastline around its plant is, by no surprise, eroding faster than any other stretch of beach in the state. The sand that isn’t hauled away in their illegal mining operation is being washed away more quickly because of it. In fact, as reported in the Monterey County Weekly, the Cemex mine is eroding the local coastline at an average rate of about four feet annually. If the mine were to shut down, that coastline would instead be growing approximately three feet annually, for a net difference of about seven feet. That’s a lot of public beach to disappear.
How can this be? Like so many societal issues, the answer is simply because that’s just the way it’s been. Because the mine has been in operations before California’s Coastal Act passed in 1976, the California Coastal Commission’s authority over it has been unclear. And because the mining operation’s sand extractions allegedly take place above the mean high tide line, neither the nearby Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary nor the State Lands Commission have been able to wield any power over the company—even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had shut down the rest of the region’s sand mines by 1990, hasn’t been able to stop CEMEX.
Surfrider’s Monterey Chapter, along with a coalition of coastal advocates, has begun to wage a campaign on behalf of the public. The chapter screened the stunning film Sand Wars, hosted panels of experts for public Q&A sessions and encouraged the Coastal Commission to complete the 2009 investigation spurred by the work of retired Naval Postgraduate School Professor Edward Thornton, one of the world’s leading experts in coastal erosion.
Additionally, in mid-March, after thoroughly scrutinizing the plant’s historic and present-day operations, the California Coastal Commission put CEMEX on notice, citing multiple Coastal Act violations relating to beach access, beach degradation, and conservation requirements. While the company initially had until April 6 to respond, Commission staff has granted deadlines in order to discuss all possible options.
Surfrider and other Monterey activists continue to support the Commission’s goal of enforcing the Coastal Act by upholding public access and stopping this theft of public land. Along with Save Our Shores, Surfrider’s Monterey Chapter is planning a substantial reminder this week when the Coastal Commission meets in Santa Cruz. The environmental nonprofits are encouraging citizens to meet Wednesday, August 10 at 8:30 a.m. at the Hilton Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley and deliver public comment in support of the Commission’s enforcement staff.
Those in the area are encouraged to join. Those who can’t make it to the meeting can sign Surfrider’s petition to voice your agreement that this illegal activity must be stopped!
Additional resources:
CEMEX mine reflects human hunger for sand (Monterey County Weekly, Jan. 14, 2016)
How To Steal A Beach (Atlas Obscura, July 18, 2016)
Conservation groups call for Coastal Commission to shut down CEMEX mining plant (Santa Cruz Sentinel, Aug. 4, 2016)
Rally planned to shut down sand mining plant in Marina (KION-TV, Aug. 4, 2016)
For more on the global threat of sand mining, check out Sand Wars.