RIVERSIDE (Wire Service) – A sharply divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors today granted a fast-track review of a proposed mining project near Temecula, also the trigger for two recent lawsuits filed against the county.
“This is preposterous and reeks of bad government,” Temecula City Councilman Mike Naggar told the board before its 3-2 vote to expedite scrutiny of the controversial Liberty Quarry.
“When did we start fast-tracking surface mines? It’s on par with fast-tracking a nuclear power plant …,” Naggar said.
“People are seeing this and believing this is the worst in government.”
Several dozen speakers lashed out at the board for taking action in favor of the quarry, while less than a dozen lauded Supervisors John Benoit, Marion Ashley and John Tavaglione for giving the project new life.
“This is a good project made better thanks to its reduced size and impacts,” said Granite Construction Resource Manager Gary Johnson.
Watsonville-based Granite first sought fast-track processing for the quarry in July, but the county did not then have provisions in place for accelerating reviews of proposed mines.
In a 3-2 vote in February, the board rejected the 414-acre quarry. However, about three months later, in another 3-2 vote, the board certified a 1,000-page environmental impact report that found many of the project’s negative impacts could be mitigated. That opened the door to Granite returning with a scaled-down mining proposal, which it did.
Last month, following several heated public hearings, the board voted 3-2 to implement amendments to county ordinances allowing mining operations to receive fast-track authorization. The goal is to have projects vetted and voted on by the board in 90 days.
Benoit and Ashley have been steadfast supporters of the quarry, while Supervisors Jeff Stone and Bob Buster have staunchly opposed it. Chairman Tavaglione was the swing voter against the project in February, but voted to certify the EIR and has voted with Ashley and Benoit ever since. The Riverside native is running for a congressional seat and widely expected to win.
Quarry opponents insist the pit 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
“You are fast-tracking the destruction of the southern gateway to Riverside County,” mine opponent and Temecula City Council candidate Paul Jacobs told the board. “You are fast-tracking disrespect for the creation site of the Pechanga tribe. Your contempt for all the people of southwest Riverside County is on display here today.”
Several speakers leveled criticism directly at Benoit, who introduced the proposal to fast-track Liberty Quarry and has sponsored each effort to move the proposal forward since July.
“You should’ve stayed in Sacramento because this board has become as dysfunctional as state government,” Norco resident Julie Waltz told the former state lawmaker.
Stone, whose district encompasses Temecula, reiterated the threat he believes the quarry poses to local vineyards and ‘wine country’ tourism in general.
“This has been the most divisive issue I’ve witnessed on the board,” Stone said. “It’s very unfortunate someone other than the supervisor in whose district the project will reside can be bold enough to put this on a fast track.
You’re fast-tracking an open pit mine that will unearth eight rose bowls. This is not about jobs. This is about money.”
Benoit, who has characterized Granite as a ‘friend’ to the Coachella Valley, denied that the revenue generation potential for the county influenced him in any way.
“There is a cost to moving granite,” Benoit said. “For every mile that it’s transported, the cost goes up. That’s extra costs to taxpayers for projects built in this area. Every extra mile that it’s transported also means more air pollution. There are regional benefits to having this mine.”
“That’s a bunch of malarkey,” Stone retorted. “By Granite’s own admission, 70 percent of the product from this mine will go to San Diego County. It’s so transparent what’s happening here. I’m embarrassed.”
According to Granite, its modified mine plan calls for restricting operations to daylight hours, with 160 fewer truck trips planned to and from the site daily. The amount of product mined at the location will be slashed 25 percent, or by 61 million tons, and the mining depth will be limited to 300 feet.
Granite also touted the estimated $92 million in new revenue that will accrue to the county from the project, thanks largely to tonnage fees charged to customers.
The quarry would lie just off Interstate 15 at Rainbow Canyon Road.
Temecula filed a lawsuit in July challenging the validity of the EIR. On Oct. 10, it filed another suit seeking a reversal of the board’s amendments to county law permitting accelerated reviews of proposed strip mines, alleging the board behaved “prejudicially” by not giving the planning commission an opportunity to review the fast-track proposal.
Fast track review of Liberty Quarry granted by divided vote of Riverside Supervisors
RIVERSIDE – A sharply divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors has just granted a fast-track review of a proposed mining project near Temecula, known as Liberty Quarry. A large number of residents oppose the mining operation and it has been the basis for two recent lawsuits against the county.
Judge denies request by City of Temecula to block fast-track vote of Liberty Quarry
On Nov. 5, an emergency restraining order filed by the City of Temecula against Riverside County was denied. The restraining order sought to block the Board of Supervisors from approving the fast track policy that would expedite approval of mining projects like Liberty Quarry. The vote can go as scheduled this afternoon.