.

Divided Board OKs 'Fast-Tracking' Strip Mines

Granite Construction will be able to use the "fast-track" permitting system in its effort to bring the controversial Liberty Quarry south of Temecula and Murrieta.

Following four hours of impassioned testimony and debate, a divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors today tentatively approved a plan to allow mining projects -- including one vigorously opposed by residents of the Temecula Valley -- to receive expedited scrutiny using a "fast-track" approval process.

"Don't put our beautiful landscape on the fast-track to becoming a pit," said Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington, one of more than three dozen people who addressed the board about the Liberty Quarry. "Why would you want to destroy the county's (southern) entrance?"

Washington and other quarry opponents easily outnumbered speakers in support of the strip mine, which, though not on the agenda, became the predominant subject as it pertains to fast-tracking.

Board Chairman John Tavaglione, along with Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit, voted in July to draft an ordinance that would qualify surface mining and reclamation projects for fast-track reviews. The same trio voted today to introduce the proposed ordinance, which is set to be formally adopted in the next few weeks.

Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose third district includes Temecula and Murrieta, cast a dissenting vote.

Supervisors Bob Buster also voted no.

By Benoit's own admission, fast-tracking has a "direct relationship" to the Liberty Quarry.

"I have never wavered in my feeling since the end of the public hearings on that project that (it has) countywide benefits," Benoit said today.

The board voted down that proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15 in February. However, three months later, the swing voter against the project, Tavaglione, sided with Ashley and Benoit in certifying an environmental impact report that concluded many of the mine's negatives could be mitigated.

By accepting the EIR, the county left open the door for Watsonville- based Granite Construction to return with a modified plan for mining the site, and the company did just that, proposing a scaled-down version of its original quarry.

Granite asked the Department of Planning to consider fast-tracking its application for permits. However, county ordinances currently do not allow for expedited vetting of proposed mines.

At the same time as Granite's announcement, Benoit introduced a proposal to revise county regulations so that mines, too, can receive fast-track approval, meaning a project could be out of the review stage and voted on by the board in 90 days.

Opponents of Liberty Quarry believe the pit would produce health- damaging levels of silica dust, mar area aesthetics, ruin rural peace, add to road congestion and permanently alter landscapes that the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians consider sacred.

Stone, whose district includes Temecula, urged the board to consider adding an amendment to the fast-track policy specifying that any project proposed for expedited review originate with the supervisor in whose district the project will be located.

Only Buster supported the motion.

Stone said he found it difficult to believe three of his four board colleagues were willing to ignore his constituents and place mining interests above those of residents.

"I feel I've been a good partner to each member of this board," the supervisor said. "I had a great working relationship with the late Supervisor Roy Wilson (Benoit's predecessor). I don't believe Roy Wilson would be trying to force his will on my constituents. Supervisor Benoit, whom I respect, has left me extremely disappointed and created the most divisive issue this board has seen."

Stone compared digging a quarry on the Temecula gateway to putting a strip mine in the hills fronting La Quinta.

"The people would be outraged with something like that scarring their landscape," he said.

Stone called the repeated references to the 100 or so jobs that might be created at the Liberty Quarry a "smoke-and-mirrors" pretext to make the project more appealing.

Members of several nationally affiliated trade unions voiced strong support for the quarry, and fast-tracking in general, for the sake of getting unemployed construction workers back on the job.

"This is the worst time in the history of the labor movement going back to the Great Depression," said union organizer John Smith. "Men are losing their homes, their health care. Some of our members have been out of work for five years. This country is weakened when people are not working."

Benoit called the day's proceedings"difficult" but reiterated his belief that the Temecula Valley mine would offer more advantages than disadvantages. He particularly liked the idea of trucks hauling construction- grade aggregate -- asphalt and gravel -- nearer to their project sites in southwest Riverside County and San Diego County.

"Aggregate would be transported a shorter distance," Benoit said. "If you have to transport it twice as far, the costs go up, there are more gravel trucks on the road and air quality is reduced."

Stone accused Benoit of acting to provide his "friends at Granite Construction with a 'get out of jail free' card" by keeping the Liberty Quarry project alive. Benoit, a former state legislator, has acknowledged receiving "modest" campaign contributions from the company.

At one point, Stone pleaded with Supervisor Marion Ashley to oppose the fast-tracking proposal, reminding him of the many times he had backed his colleague's initiatives in the fifth district.

"I've always been collegiate with the board," Stone said. "But all that goes down the drain unless we can show that we are fair."

Ashley replied that no supervisor should treat his district as if it were a "kingdom" and the supervisor is a "king."

Tavaglione, who is running for a congressional seat, said he would support implementing fast-track authorizations for "every damn project" possible, completely bypassing the planning commission, to bring down the county's 13 percent unemployment rate.

B-Cat September 26, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Implement a recall on those that sold out to the quarry. Another good idea is to see if in any way $$$$$$$ are being directed in their direction and lets see if they stay here in the valley or take off during the night for parts unknown.
Galactic Cannibal September 26, 2012 at 02:42 PM
How many collage educated young people with BSc's will be employed in this Liberty Quarry strip-mine project ? probably ONE. The rest will be unskilled labor paid low wages. And it will have zero effect on the 12-13% unemployed in riverside county. Where ever there is a quarry there will be increased particle pollution of the air we breath. Ah but stupid me , I forgot about the "American dream" where profit comes before people, and greed rules..... Yes Sir , Yes Siree Bob !!!
Katheryn September 30, 2012 at 04:09 PM
http://temecula.patch.com/articles/citizen-reader-shares-mining-sounds Read the above story in the Temecula Patch and watch the video, Melendez is all for mining and supported by Granite Construction. This is the reason I am voting for Phil Paule for Assembly 67th District.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something