ELC Weighs In On Sand Mining Impacts in the Southern Monterey Bay

Last week, in a contentious meeting so packed that concerned members of the public spilled into an overflow room, the Marina City Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution declaring that CEMEX sand mining operations are a public nuisance.

The CEMEX Sand Mine—a roughly 100-acre sand-dredging and -processing operation located on a Monterey Bay beach in Marina, California—dredges sand from an artificial pond located between the shoreline and dunes. This pond draws in sand from the nearshore and from the public tidelands during certain high tides and annual storms. For the past several decades, CEMEX has been removing on average 150,000-200,000 cubic meters of sand annually. This amounts to 20,000 to 30,000 dump truck loads of sand being removed from the beach each year—approximately half of the available local sand supply in the Marina area.

In response to increasing public concern and the emerging scientific consensus on the adverse impacts from sand mining, the City of Marina engaged the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic to assist with a legal analysis concerning whether the impacts from sand mining constitute a public nuisance. Many students contributed to this analysis, most recently Shannon Galvin (JD ’18), Faaris (Fares) Akremi (JD ‘18), John Ugai (JD ’17), and Miles Muller (JD/MS ’18). The City also commissioned an independent report by coastal geologist Dr. Robert Young to evaluate the impacts of the CEMEX sand mine on coastal erosion. Miles Muller presented the findings from Dr. Young’s report and the staff report that was authored by the Clinic at the recent City Council meeting.

As the Clinic highlighted in our presentation to the City Council, CEMEX’s sand mining has contributed significantly to erosion in the southern Monterey Bay, where shoreline erosion rates are the highest in California: “Exacerbated erosion from sand mining has come at a high public price: jeopardizing public health and safety by putting coastal infrastructure at risk, impeding public access and use of beaches, and causing habitat loss and significant property damage throughout the region.”

Eroding section of shoreline within the City of Marina. Photo Credit: Dr. Young
Part of the eroding shoreline in the City of Marina. Photo Credit: Dr. Young

Based on evidence available in the public record, the staff report, and on an independent evaluation of that evidence by Dr. Robert Young, the City Council agreed that the CEMEX sand mining operation is causing significant erosion in the southern Monterey Bay, the impacts of which constitute a public nuisance under sections 3479 and 3480 of the California Civil Code.

This resolution does not enjoin CEMEX from continuing sand mining activities. Rather, the resolution directs the City Attorney to explore legal options and to request Council direction on whether to proceed.

The City’s recent action occurred amidst other state action on sand mining: in 2016, the California Coastal Commission issued a notice of intent to cease and desist operations at the CEMEX facility; last month, the California State Lands Commission wrote a letter to CEMEX demanding that the company obtain a lease to continue operations.

For more local coverage on the City Council’s actions, check out this article.