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Coastal Commission approves agreement to close last beach sand mining operation in mainland U.S.

Coastal Commission approves agreement to close last beach sand mining operation in mainland U.S.
A dredger sits idle on the Monterey County coast, where the Cemex company runs the last beach sand mining operation in the mainland United States. (California Coastal Commission)

The California Coastal Commission on Thursday unanimously approved an agreement to end the mining of beach sand in Monterey County — the last operation of its type in the mainland United States.

Instead of facing a court battle with the commission over permits, the Mexico-based Cemex company said it would stop extracting sand from 400 acres of beach in the city of Marina by Dec. 31, 2020.

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The agreement also calls for Cemex to protect the environment while operations are phased out and eventually sell the coastal site at a reduced price to a nonprofit organization that would preserve the property in perpetuity and provide public access.

"This settlement is an incredible victory for the public," said Jack Ainsworth, the commission's executive director. "Monterey County has some of the most iconic stretches of coastline that are being lost to some of the highest erosion rates in the state."

Scientific research indicates that the Cemex operation has contributed to beach erosion in the Monterey Bay area and that sand mined at the site is replenished by erosion from public trust lands that becomes trapped in the company's dredging area.

Commission officials said the agreement resolves a dispute over whether Cemex had failed to obtain all the necessary state and local permits to dredge sand from the beach.

The company contended it had a right to mine because the operation predated the passage of the California Coastal Act of 1976, which set the requirements for development, environmental protection, resource management and land uses along the coast.

Cemex operates the last coastal sand mining operation in the lower 48 states. Sand mining also occurs at a site on Lake Michigan and in limited amounts at some beaches in Hawaii.

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