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Supervisors Say Yes to Fast-Tracking Mining Projects

The 3-2 vote means that the latest proposal for Liberty Quarry can head straight to the Board of Supervisors for approval

After a contentious 4 1/2-hour meeting, a divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors today approved a proposal to amend county ordinances to enable expediting reviews of projects—including the heavily opposed Liberty Quarry mining project near Temecula—using a "fast-track" process.

Supervisors voted 3-2 to add surface mines to the list of projects that can bypass the county's planning commission and head straight to the supervisors for consideration, a process known as fast-tracking.

Supervisors Bob Buster and Jeff Stone were the dissenting votes. Temecula City Council members blasted the move.

Dozens of people crowded into the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside for the board's final meeting before summer recess, with many attendees addressing the supervisors about the controversial Liberty Quarry.

The board voted down the proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15 in February. However, in an unexpected turn three months later, the swing voter against the project, Chairman John Tavaglione, sided with Supervisors Marion Ashley and John 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. Last week, the company did just that, proposing a scaled-down version of its original proposed quarry.

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

At virtually 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.

"This would be designed to allow for certain types of projects that have job-creating potential to have a quicker turnaround time," Benoit said.

Opponents of Liberty Quarry believe the pit mine 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.

"Mr. Benoit, like a Sacramento veteran working on behalf of one of your largest campaign contributors, you've led the county to this shameful day," Temecula City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards said. "(By fast-tracking), you want to sidestep due process and avoid scrutiny. When you make decisions like this, you must think long-term."

Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington reminded the board that the city is suing the county to have the Liberty Quarry EIR invalidated.

"Why would you change your laws to allow impactful mining projects all over Riverside County?" Washington said. "This isn't a minor change; this is a major change. Mr. Benoit, can you imagine considering a proposal to make the entire Tahquitz Canyon a quarry after just a 90-day review? Fast track bypasses a valuable review process carried out by the planning commissioners."

Temecula resident and civic activist Paul Jacobs accused Benoit of setting the stage for a district-versus-district "civil war" by plowing ahead with fast-tracking plans.

Speakers, and even Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose district encompasses Temecula, asked Benoit to respect district boundaries by tabling any plans to further Granite's interests.

Benoit replied that the company had been a "friend" to the Coachella Valley, providing steady jobs and respecting environmental concerns for decades. He denied receiving anything more than "modest" campaign contributions from the company over the last three years.

"There's a lot of emotion here today," the supervisor said. "I'm surprised by some of the hurtful, unsubstantiated attacks impugning my reputation. But people are using emotion instead of facts."

The supervisor reiterated his support for the Liberty Quarry, noting that having a site producing construction-grade aggregate -- asphalt and gravel -- in southwest Riverside County would dramatically reduce the amount of truck traffic countywide and lower the cost of residential and commercial building in the western county region.

Stone retorted that 70 percent of the aggregate would be going to neighboring San Diego County.

"We need to do the right thing and not fast-track this project," the supervisor said. "Let's review it prudently and responsibly so there's not even the appearance of impropriety. I don't want this county to take over the headlines like that other county (San Bernardino) has.

"I promise you that this project will not reduce unemployment by one- thousandth of one percent," Stone added. "This is all smoke and mirrors ... We cannot sacrifice the health and welfare of the citizens of this county."

Tavaglione, again, was the swing vote, saying he supported implementing fast-track authorizations for "every project in the county," if such were possible.

"I'll be damned if I'm going to let this become an election issue," Tavalgione, who is running for a congressional seat, told the crowd of quarry opponents. "There are some of you trying to make it that ... We need to do everything we can to turn this economy around."

According to Granite, the revised quarry project would entail a 45-year operating window, instead of 75 years, as was originally proposed.

More than 60 permanent jobs would be created at the site, with several hundred indirect jobs resulting from the project, according to the company. There would be 160 fewer truck trips to and from the site per day; the total amount of aggregate removed from the mine would be reduced from 235 million to 174 million tons; the mine depth would be 300-feet less; and mining activity would be restricted to daylight hours.

Currently, some commercial projects can be fast-tracked if they create 40 or more full-time jobs, result in at least $5 million in capital investment or generate at least $12.5 million taxable sales.

By the end of August, county attorneys are expected to submit proposed amendments for board consideration that provide for fast-track review procedures on mines, reclamation projects and other large-scale enterprises.

Jeff K August 01, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Republicans again sell out to the corporation. They don't care about our healtgh, our environment. They care only about money. Benoit sold out to Granite and if this passes you will then be breathing Liberty Quarry air and so will your kids. The jobs created will go to unemployed quarry workers, which are scattered all over Southern California, not from this area. How many of you have had your windshields damaged from gravel trucks.....unhealthy air, no real jobs and aggregate for San Diego is what to expect and profits for Granite. BTW- this project of unsafe, unhealthy air is partially brought to you by Bob Kowell and the Southwest Riverside County Tea Party........the same group that tried to force Gary Stein a dishonorably discharged Marine on you as well as a few years ago a spoiled 18 year old child, Casey Evans as new City Council members. Is this what the residents are behind?
Omar August 01, 2012 at 06:50 PM
The people have spoken and yet they continue pressing this issue. Thank you Bob Buster and Jeff Stone for listening to your constituents.
Jon Sims August 01, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Jeff it doesn't take much to realize we need jobs right now. This new quarry will provide a lot of those jobs and be a boost to the local economy. Further since Granite owns the land they are well within their rights, just because you live in the area it does not give you the right to bully Granite into a major monetary loss. The environment around quarries is always left in a better shape than it was before hand when the quarry is completed. The amount of dust particles will be miniscule and affect health little, whereas the amount of jobs and the cheaper building materials will lead to an increased prosperity for all, but I'm sure that the republicans "sold out" rather than just used their logical faculties. Support for the quarry was equally split in Temecula and Murrieta, so you can not even argue that they are going behind the backs of their constituents, unless there is an actual reason to oppose the project they have no legal right to do so
Jeff K August 01, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Well, as Omar is saying, the PEOPLE of Temecula and Murrieta don't want it. Yes, we need some jobs but these are not coming for a long time and when they do, they aren't going to be Temecula residents. But Temecula residents will pay the price. If you want to see what quarries and wind do......LOOK NORTH at Corona one of these hot days and see the haze. Thats dust and particulates from the many quarries up there. Jon Sims wants that here....for us. Your saying Jon that an equal number of residents supports this quarry is not right....as a matter of fact, youre lying when you say it. Jon......what matter is it to you what the cost of materials are? I mean really? Knowing that this will not bring local jobs,.....what does that really mean to you? When looking up YOUR profile its clear that you admitted to being a "conservative", and one of your comments was deleted for bullying others. Go back to the Tea Party clubhouse and tell Bobby to send out the big attack dogs to fight for the quarry. Your not one of them.
Ed P. August 01, 2012 at 08:51 PM
This isn't about conservatives or liberals or Tea Party. This is about bad choices by bad poilticians. They certainly are not doing what's right for this community. The people have already spoken on this issue and they don't want this quarry. Guess it's time for the people (democrats and republicans) to unite and speak again.
Jon Sims August 02, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Funny my friend, don't seem to recall having my comments get deleted ever for bullying, nor can I see it on my profile. But feel free to spread disinformation it matters little. Look if you truly oppose the quarry then good on you, glad you are politically involved, but if you can't at least see both sides you seriously need to take off the blinders. I get it, the increased traffic, rocks flying out of trucks, etc would be bad. However I would think that the influx of jobs and money would have a greater positive impact than the possible negatives. In this economy, I would much rather have jobs than a mountain.
Omar August 02, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Well, at least we know who Mr. Benoit answers to. According the the PE, Mr. Benoit has received $11,406 in contributions from Granite more that any other Riverside supervisor.
Fauntleroy Murphy August 03, 2012 at 02:43 PM
I think we need a FAST-TRACK recall effort of our county supervisors!
Katheryn September 30, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Where there is smoke there is fire. I have provided a link to the Temecula Patch please read the story and watch the video. Now tell me does this sound familiar? http://temecula.patch.com/articles/citizen-reader-shares-mining-sounds Another reason I am voting for Phil Paule for the 67th District Assembly Seat, a politican who cares about the peoples health and safety.
Jon Sims September 30, 2012 at 09:55 PM
One problem Katheryn. The Liberty Quarry will not be operated at night, nor will it be as close to homes as the alberhill quarry in Lake Elsinore is

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