Sand Mining in California's Central Coast Region

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An environmental summary created by the ENVS 560/L Watershed Systems class at CSUMB.

Image 1. CEMEX Lapis dredge pond. (Monterey County Weekly, Karen Loutzenheiser, Mar 24, 2016)
Image 2. An undated photo of the CEMEX Lapis dredge pond. (Gary Griggs, Ph.D, UC Santa Cruz).

This page gives a short history of sand mining in California's Central Coast Region and highlights the CEMEX Lapis Sand Plant. The page does not discuss gravel mining that occurs inland.


The 400-acre CEMEX Lapis Sand Plant is the last beach-front sand mine operating in California and the United States [1]. The CEMEX Lapis Plant is located in the City of Marina, Monterey County, eight miles north of Monterey along Highway 1 and within the Lower Salinas River Watershed. [2] The area to the north and south of the CEMEX Lapis Plant primarily consists of undisturbed coastal dunes. The property is situated between Martin Dunes owned by the Big Sur Land Trust (BSLT) to the immediate north and Marina Dunes Preserve immediately to the south owned by Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District (MPRPD).


From 1906-1990, the Southern Monterey Bay Region in California's Central Coast was the most intensively mined shoreline in the United States. [3] Southern Monterey beach sands have been valued for a wide variety of commercial uses because of the sand composition, hardness, roundness, color, and purity. [4] As many as six sand mines, which includes the current CEMEX Lapis Plant, were active at various times over the past century in the City of Marina and City of Sand City. Mining at the CEMEX Lapis Plant property began between 1906 and 1907 [5]. The property was owned by a number of entries prior to CEMEX taking over in 2005 [5]. In the early 1900s, all six mines took sand directly off the beach but in 1959, beach mining ceased as mines started to use an ocean dragline, which is a claw or shovel attached to a cable that extracts sand from the ocean, below the mean tide line [5]. In the early 1960s, the previous CEMEX Lapis Plant property owner submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers, California State Lands Commission, and Monterey County and secured authorizations to construct a dragline. However, a dragline was never installed. Instead, a dredge was created on the property to extract sand via a man-made pond located approximately 1,400 feet inland of the ocean. [4][5] At the time, the dredge pond was about 200 feet wide by 300 feet long, with a depth of 38 feet. Around 1965, the dredge pond was moved to the beach near where it currently sits and its operation resulted in creating a second dredge pond. [5]

The Army Corps of Engineers determined that all mines needed authorization pursuant to the Rivers and Harbors Act and granted all such permit applications. However, after the first authorizations expired, the Army Corps determined that the coastal sand mines were causing erosion and stopped issuing permits for coastal sand mines using draglines. Since the Army Corps no longer issued permits, all of the mining operations in the City of Marina using draglines stopped by 1986, and the last dragline mining operation in Monterey Bay in the City of Sand City stopped by 1990. The Army Corps did not require the dredge pond on the CEMEX property to obtain a dragline permit. As such, the 400-acre CEMEX Lapis Plant is the only sand mine in California that continues to operate. [5]

Best estimates suggest that the CEMEX Lapis Plant removes nearly 200,000-250,000 tons, possibly as much as 326,000 tons of sand annually (one dump truck every 20-30 minutes). [4] [6] The extraction volume more-or-less equals the total volumes previously removed by all of the once-operating mines combined. [4] In 2016, the California Coastal Commission notified CEMEX of its intent to commence a cease and desist order for violations of the California Coastal Act. On 13 July 2017, the California Coastal Commission and CEMEX settled that CEMEX Lapis Plant will shut down operations by 31 December 2020 and avoid litigation. [7]. The agreement will end a more than century-long era of sand mining in the Monterey Bay.

CEMEX Settlement Agreement

Events leading up to the agreement to shut down operations by 31 Dec 2020.

  • 2010 - The California Coastal Commission and Army Corps of Engineers decides to look at the CEMEX Lapis Plant under the microscope following allegations from the public that the property owner was using bulldozers to push sand into the dredge pond [8]. The Army Corps issued an independent determination that the dredge pond was subject to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act which prohibits placement of fill. The Army Corps required, and CEMEX agreed, to cease the usage of mechanized equipment to push sand into the dredge pond. [5]
  • 2014 - The California Coastal Commission begins a series of meetings, phone calls, and site visits with representatives of the CEMEX Lapis Plant property owner. [8]
  • 2016 Mar 15 - The Marina City Council adopts a resolution authorizing the City Manager to request that the California Coastal Commission assist and coordinate with the City in any enforcement proceedings pursued in relation to possible violations of the California Coastal Act and the Marina Local Coastal Program by the CEMEX Lapis Plant sand mining operations. [9]
  • 2016 Mar 17 - The California Coastal Commission commences proceedings to issue a Cease and Desist Order and a Restoration Order for the imposition of administrative civil penalties and to resolve the violations of the Coastal Act resulting from unpermitted development that has and continues to occur on the CEMEX Lapis Plant property. Unpermitted activities at the property include dredging and extraction of sand, placement of floating dredges and development associated with the dredges (installation of anchors, cables, pipes, and pump station(s)), grading, and changes in the intensity of use of the mine. [8] The commission also begins a series of confidential discussions with the representatives of the property owner about its operations. [10]
  • 2017 Feb 3 - Marina City Mayor, Bruce Delgado sends a letter to the State Lands Commission urging the agency to assert its jurisdiction and require that CEMEX obtain necessary permitting from the State Lands Commission for any continued sand mining activity at the CEMEX Lapis Plant. [9]
  • 2017 May 16 - The State Lands Commission issues a letter to CEMEX stating that sand in the dredge pond comes in with the tides and so is subject to the agency’s jurisdiction. CEMEX must either immediately submit a lease application, conduct environmental studies, and pay royalties, or cease dredge pond operations or face civil liability and damages because of the financial and resource impacts of its operations on the state. Specifically, the State Lands Commission noted that “the intensity of sand extraction at the Lapis operation causes environmental damage, public and private property damage, and loss of economic benefit through beach erosion.” [11]
  • 2017 June 6 - The Marina City Council adopts a resolution to find the CEMEX Lapis Plant meets the elements required to be considered a public nuisance. [9]
  • 2017 June 27 - The California Coastal Commission and CEMEX reach a proposed settlement (Consent Cease and Desist Order No. CCC-17-CD-02) to end its sand mining operations, pending approval by 12-member commissioners at its 2017 July 13 meeting. [5] [10] The agreement is a result of more than a year of negotiations between CEMEX and commission staff, and forecloses any possible litigation. “We have spent countless hours in confidential talks forging a solution to stop the truly regrettable loss of sand and to protect the beaches in the Monterey Bay,” said the Commission’s Chief of Enforcement Lisa Haage. Per the agreement, CEMEX agrees to the following:
    • Stop extracting sand from the last beach sand mining operation in California.
    • Resolve its financial liabilities under the California Coastal Act.
    • Withdraw any claims CEMEX may have to a vested right for continued sand mining on the property.
    • Cease all sand mining operations by 2020 Dec 31. The maximum amount of sand that may be removed during the three year cessation period is 240,000 tons or approximately 177,000 cubic yards per year. The agreement also provides another three years without any additional sand extraction to allow CEMEX to wind down all operations, assist with employee transitions, and restoration and reclamation activities to encourage the recovery of the habitat values.
    • A deed restriction will be placed on the property at sale to protect it in perpetuity and provide for public access and conservation at the site, and provides for a transfer of the site at a reduced price to a non-profit or governmental agency approved by the Commission.
    • CEMEX will have a seeding and regrading plan by 31 Dec 2021 and completion of the full Remediation Plan by 31 Dec 2025.
    • CEMEX will be monitored regularly and will be fined for any breach of agreement.
  • 2017 July 13 - At the monthly California Coastal Commission meeting, nine of the twelve Commissioners vote unanimously (3 of the members were absent) to approve the settlement agreement and shutdown the CEMEX Lapis Plant by 2020 Dec 31. [12]
  • 2018 Jan: City of Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado attends a meeting at Moss Landing Marine Lab to discuss the disposition of the CEMEX property, hosted by the Big Sur Land Trust (BSLT), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District (MPRPD) who wanted input from various leaders and biologists regarding what kind of public access, restoration, and research needed to happen on the property once vacated. The consensus was that the north half of the property not have public access since it has not been disturbed. Public access should be focused on those portions of the property that have been disturbed [13]
  • 2019 - The California Coastal Commission agrees to assist and partner with the City of Marina to update appropriate zoning and policies and redefine the vision of the City for the reuse of the CEMEX site in the Marina Local Coastal Land Use Plan [14]
  • 2019 - The City of Monterey on behalf of the coastal communities in the Southern Monterey Bay (SMB) Littoral Cell is developing an opportunistic sand use program. The goal of the Monterey Bay Opportunistic Beach Nourishment Program (OBNP) is to streamline the placement of clean, beach compatible sediments from upland sources onto beaches of Monterey Bay with high rates of erosion. Part of streamlining the process is the stockpile the sand at on beach receiver sites(s). The CEMEX Lapis Plant property is being considered as a receiver site. The OBNP project was born out of the actions identified in the California Coastal Sediment Management Master Plan. One of the key goals of the Sediment Master Plan and related studies is to develop a process that helps to manage sand on a regional or littoral cell basis.

Systems and Processes

Sand is a valuable part of the coastal land and dune ecosystem and is not a renewable resource. [15] The Monterey Bay tidal system moves sand along the shore, therefore sand removed from one location impacts the entire shoreline.[16] Sand mining is one of two major regional activities that have changed the sand supply into the Southern Monterey Bay (SMB) Littoral Cell, which extends from the breakwater in Monterey north to the head of Monterey Submarine Canyon. [4] Historically, the Salinas River contributes sand to the SMB cell however, dams on the Salinas River and movement of the river mouth have reduced the amount of sand brought into the cell; the dams trap about 33% of the sand load. [4][17] As such, the Salinas River no longer yields significant sand to nourish southern Monterey Beaches. The CEMEX Lapis Plant mines sand originating from the Salinas River, and the amount of sand removed vastly exceeds what is added into the cell from the Salinas River.

Eroded dune sand primarily collects in one of two dredge ponds, the largest a 1,000 square feet artificial pond in the shoreline on the property. [4] Every year, the pond fills with sand carried by winter waves or wind. A floating hydraulic dredge, approximately 60 feet long and 30 feet wide, extracts the sand to a depth of 30 feet. [5] The dredge moves around the pond via the use of cables connected to a number of anchors placed on the beach surrounding the dredge pond. The dredge extracts a mixture of sand and water which is pumped inland towards processing plants. Sand that does not meet grain size requirements is placed in sand stockpiles. CEMEX is required under the City of Marina Local Coastal Plan to report on stockpile size but the amount has not been reported since 1992 however, the total volume of the sand in stockpiles appears to have grown over time. [5]

Sand mined from the pond at the CEMEX Lapis Plant is removed directly from the SMB Littoral Cell. The CEMEX Lapis Plant mines an estimated 326,000 cubic yards of sand per year and removes roughly 50 percent or more from the SMB Littoral Cell sand supply and budget. [6] Between 1986 to 2013, CEMEX mined more than 6.8 million cubic yards (8.4 million tons) of sand that will never return to the coastal system. A general argument is that mining diminishes sand deposits on beaches and accelerates coastal erosion. Sand mining in coastal dune systems can lead to long term erosion of approximately 0.5 to 1.5 meters per year. [18] The southern Monterey shoreline on average is the most erosive shoreline in California. [19] Erosion rates are highest in the north, closer to the sand mine and decrease southward.

Erosion Rates in Southern Monterey Bay: [20]

Along a 8-mile stretch of coastline from the CEMEX Lapis mine to Del Monte Beach, the average retreat rate is 4 ft/year and totals 250,000 cubic yards/year which is essentially the same volume of sand removed by the CEMEX Lapis Plant [4]. Reductions in erosion and dune retreat are expected should mining stop, as more sand would be contributed to the littoral cell and move down the coast. [17]

Laws, Policies, & Regulations

The CEMEX Lapis Plant has never been issued a Coastal Development Permit under the California Coastal Act of 1976 for the overall operation. CEMEX also does not have authorization for sand extraction from the California State Lands Commission, City of Marina, or County of Monterey.

Pertinent policies

Permit history[5]

  • California State Lands Commission
    • 1963: prior CEMEX Lapis Plant owner applies for a lease to extract sand from the ocean using a dragline. The State Lands Commission notifies other agencies of the pending lease application including Monterey County and the Army Corps of Engineers. [5]
    • 1964 May 28: State Lands Commission approves a Mineral Extraction Lease for 5 years, allowing a minimum extraction of 25,000 cubic years and a max of 80,000 cubic years from a 10-acre area below the Mean High Tide Line (MHTL). The lease does not approve the removal of sands above the MHTL.
    • 1969 Aug 28 - State Lands Commission approved an extension of the lease for an additional 5 years contingent on the property owner obtaining a permit from the Army Corps. The Army Corps did not approve the permit, the State Lands Commission lease was never extended, and the State Lands Lease ended in 1969. The property owner/CEMEX continued operation without the required State Lands lease.
  • Army Corps of Engineers
    • 1964 Apr 10: Army Corps grants Department of Army Permit 64-18 to the property owner for the extraction of a maximum of 100,000 tons of sand per year from a 2,200-foot long area along the shoreline not to extend further than 200 feet seaward of the MHTL. [5]
  • Monterey County
    • 1963 Oct - Monterey County issues the property owner to obtain a Use Permit 1118 to authorize the dragline method of removing sand.
    • 1964 Oct 5 - Monterey County renews the permit, however, no dragline was constructed.
    • 1965 - Monterey County planning staff, in response to an inquiry for the State Lands Commission, reviewed the paperwork and permits for the dredge pond on the property and found that the dredge pond was not permitted and illegal. The property owner did not have permits from the County at the effective date of California Proposition 20, creation of the California Coastal Commission. [5]
  • City of Marina
    • Never issued permits for any operations at the CEMEX Lapis Plant. [5]
    • 1988 Aug 8 - City of Marina approved Coastal Development Permit 3-MAR-88-006 for construction of a new processing plant. The CDP does not provide authorization for the overall use of the property or the dredge pond. The CDP was not appealed and became final, and the demolition and construction occurred in 1989.
    • 1989 Apr 11 - City of Marina and the prior property owner agreed to a Dune Mining Agreement, ending mining of dunes on the property to protect the Smith's Blue butterfly. Mining of dune sands on the property around stopped 1990, and reduced the area of inland dunes on the property that were used for the mining operation.
    • 1997 July 14 - City of Marina approved CDP 3-MAR-97-001 for a for a 186 sq. ft. single story addition to an existing scale house building located near the entrance road. [5]
  • California Coastal Commission
    • No Coastal Development Permit was issued by the Coastal Zone Conservation Commission, the precursor agency to the California Coastal Commission, to authorize the extraction of sand using the dredge pond. Therefore, the prior property owner did not obtain all necessary permits prior to January 1, 1977, the effective date of the California Coastal Act, either.

CEMEX claims that because its operation precedes the California Coastal Act, it had vested rights to continue mining sand without acquiring further permits. [9] However, the California Coastal Commission found that the illegal dredge pond on site and an increase in extraction activity overstep the bounds of the vested rights. [8] According to the California Coastal Commission, mining sand from the beach at Marina conflicts with the California Coastal Act in the following ways [17]:

  • Impacts on the local sand supply, in conflict with Section 30235.
  • Habitat degradation and landform alternation, in conflict with Section 30231, 30240, and 30251.
  • Visual intrusion to the beach environment, in conflict with Section 30251.
  • Degradation of sand dunes creates a barrier to beach access, in conflict with Section 30211.

Resources At Stake

Image 3. Economic losses. Philip G. King, Ph.D, 2017 [22]

Excavation of approximately 326,000 tons of sand each year can impact the following resources along the Monterey Bay shoreline:


  • A valuable resource that is used to make glass, computer chips, in cement to build houses and roads, and more. [23]
  • Provides protection from extreme conditions (i.e. flood, large storms, sea level rise)

Water supply

  • Sand mining can extend so deeply that it affects ground water, springs, underground wells through lowering of the water table. [24]

Species Biodiversity

Habitats and Ecosystems

  • Sub-tidal habitat (rocky reef, kelp forests, eelgrass beds)
  • Coastal/Sandy Beach habitat
  • Dune habitat

Public access of beaches and dunes for recreational use


  • Existing coastal development (hotels, condos, etc.)
  • Highways & Bridges (HWY 1)

Special Status Plants known to occur on the CEMEX Lapis Plant property - sandmat manzanita (Arctostaphylos pumila), Monterey spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens var. pungens), sand-loving wallflower (Erysimum ammophilum), Menzies' wallflower (Erysimum menziesii), Monterey gilia (Gilia tenuiflora ssp. arenaria). [25]

Special Status Animals known to occur on the CEMEX Lapis Plant property - black legless lizard (Anniella pulchra nigra), western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrines nivosus), Smith's blue butterfly (Euphilotes enoptes smithi), bank swallow (Riparia riparia). [25]

  • In December 2014, CalAm began work on a test slant intake well located at the property [26]. Due to the presence of threatened western snowy plover breeding grounds near the test slant well, the location had to be returned to its original conditions by 2018 Feb 28 [27].


Various private and public organizations have interests in sand mining and the status of the CEMEX Lapis Plant. Some of these are:

Local Government


  • CEMEX- Mexico-based, global building materials company which owns the CEMEX Lapis Plant.



Education Institutions


Coastal Retreat in California's Central Coast Region, specifically Southern Monterey Bay, has the fastest rate of erosion in California.[19] Since the retreat is occuring in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, scientists are determined to find possible mitigation efforts, reasons for high rates, and, specific hot spots.

Recent research includes:

  • Thorton et al. (2006) looked at sand mining impacts on long-term dune erosion in southern Monterey Bay. [3]
  • Storlazzi and Field (2000) studied sediment distribution and transport along the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel Bay. [28]
  • Coastal Regional Sediment Management Plan For Southern Monterey Bay prepared by Williams et al. (2008). [29]
  • Hapke et al. (2006) wrote the National Assessment of Shoreline Change Part 3: Historical Shoreline Change and Associated Coastal Land Loss Along Sandy Shorelines of the California Coast. [19]


There are a variety of tools that can be used to assess the effects of sand mining and/or coastal retreat.

  • ArcGIS and the Digital Shoreline Analysis System (DSAS) toolbox can be used to monitor changes in beach width.
  • Stereo Photogrammetry [3]
  • LIDAR Measurements [3]
  • GPS Surveys [3]
  • Historical aerial photography

Future Research

The Coastal Regional Sediment Management Plan for Southern Monterey Bay lists potential ways to address the issue of coastal erosion.

Continued study of beach erosion rates in the Southern Monterey Bay after the shutdown of the CEMEX Lapis Plant will help confirm the impacts of sand mining. CSUMB is planning to continue erosion studies at the site.

CEMEX In The News


  1. Marina declares CEMEX plant a public nuisance
  2. CEMEX Lapis Plant
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Thornton et al. 2006. Sand Mining Impacts on Long-term Dune Erosion in Southern Monterey Bay. Marine Geology 229.1:45-58
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Testimony to California Coastal Commission on Sand Mining in City of Marina
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 Staff Report: Recommendations and Findings for Consent Settlement Agreement and Cease and Desist Order
  6. 6.0 6.1 An Evaluation of the Ongoing Impacts of Sand Mining at the CEMEX Lapis Sand Plant in Marina, California on the Southern Monterey Bay Shoreline
  7. California Coastal Commission. 2017. CONSENT SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT AND CEASE AND DESIST ORDER CCC-17-CD-02. State of California Natural Resources Agency
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Notification of Intent to Commence Cease and Desist Order and Restoration Order Proceedings and Administrative Civil Penalties Proceedings
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Finding the current operation of the CEMEX mine meets the elements required for a Public Nuisance
  10. 10.0 10.1 Coastal Commission Staff and CEMEX reach proposed settlement to close sand mining operations
  11. California State Lands Commission letter: Activities of concern at CEMEX Lapis Plant, Marina, California
  13. MINUTES for City Council Meeting of Wednesday, January 17, 2018
  14. DRAFT City of Marina 2019 Existing Conditions and Sea Level Rise Issues Report
  15. [1]
  16. Sierra Club - Beach Erosion caused by CEMEX sand mining in Marina
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Coastal Processes affecting the Southern Monterey Bay (SMB) Littoral Cell With focus on the CEMEX Mine at Marina, CA
  18. [2]
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Hapke CJ et al. 2006. USGS. National Assessment of Shoreline Change Part 3: Historical Shoreline Change and Associated Coastal Land Loss Along Sandy Shorelines of the California Coast
  20. California Coastal Erosion Response to Sea Level Rise
  21. City of Marina.2017. Request for Proposals. Local Coastal Plan Update Preparation of Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Assessment, and Adaptation Planning.
  22. Economic Analysis of Proposed Cessation of Sand Mining in Marina, CA
  23. Sand Wars Movie Website
  24. Environmental Impacts
  25. 25.0 25.1 CEMEX: Ecological Resources
  26. In brief: Test slant well intake for Monterey Peninsula project now underway
  27. MPWSP Temporary Slant Test Well, Project Description
  28. Storlazzi, CD and Field, ME. 2000. Sediment distribution and transport along a rocky, embayed coast: Monterey Peninsula and Carmel Bay, California. Marine Geology 170.3: 289-316.
  29. Coastal Regional Sediment Management Plan For Southern Monterey Bay



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