RIVERSIDE – A mining company will be responsible for paying all of Riverside County’s legal bills tied to lawsuits filed to stop a mine near Temecula that a divided Board of Supervisors today approved for expedited review.
Watsonville-based Granite Construction agreed to indemnify the county against all legal challenges to the proposed Liberty Quarry.
Following a nearly three-hour public hearing, the board voted 3-2 to put the project on “fast-track” processing, with the goal of deciding within the next 90 days whether to grant permits for the 414-acre mine, which would be situated on a mountainside at Interstate 15 and Rainbow Canyon Road.
One of the conditions for the quarry to be considered was a promise from Granite to cover any litigation-related expenses that might arise.
The city of Temecula has filed two lawsuits challenging the legality of the project and the board’s actions to fast-track it.
Under the compacts unanimously approved by the board, Granite and the county will be jointly represented by the Sacramento-based law firm Harrison, Temblador, Hungerford & Johnson in defending against Temecula’s suit seeking to invalidate an environmental impact report commissioned by Granite for the quarry.
The county will be represented separately by the Roseville-based firm Cota Cole in battling Temecula’s suit alleging that the county’s steps to implement fast-track procedures for mines and reclamation projects violated state law.
In both cases, Granite is picking up the tab, according to the Office of County Counsel.
”Is this a legal partnership, or are you partners in crime?” Temecula resident Paul Jacobs asked the board. ”Once you make a deal with the devil, you can’t go back on it. You are putting the faith and credit of the county behind a proposal created outside the purview of county staff. You’re shredding whatever integrity remains in the county seat of government.”
Supervisor Jeff Stone, a quarry opponent, joined his colleagues in signing off on the covenants with Granite, but not before gaining assurances from County Counsel Pamela Walls that if the company and the county have a falling out, Granite will still pay all quarry-related legal bills.
Walls said that if it becomes necessary for Harrison, Temblador to end its representation of the county and exclusively represent Granite, the latter must still pay for the county’s defense.
Quarry opponents insist the mine will 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.
Quarry supporters counters that the third party testing that has been reported around their other mines has proven the air has not been polluted, and in fact, the air quality testing is cleaner than the emissions around the Promenade Mall. They contend that there are also other countywide benefits, such as increasing the supply of construction-grade aggregate — asphalt, gravel and sand — closest to the areas that need it most in Riverside and San Diego counties.
Granite has estimated the county will receive up to $93 million in revenue from tipping fees at the proposed mine over its 50-year lifespan and it will be unseen from Temecula.