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Fast-Track Process Approved: Temecula Could Become A Pit, Official Warns

Tuesday the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to tentatively approve fast-tracking of projects, including mining.

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.

Supervisors Jeff Stone and Bob Buster cast dissenting votes.

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.

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.

Nancy September 27, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Welcome to City of Temecula which means "Where the sun breaks through the mist". Yes, that mist is a carcinogenic dust like particles that will make all the schools along the Santiago Roads & along Temecula Parkway into asthma, allergy & oncologists doctors dream corridor. Great Oak or Great "Choke" Highschool, Hope Lutheran (hope you get that lung transplant). How about the awards & points that the Temecula wineries will gain by the additional air quality additives? I'm with Fade67 - it's not just a Temecula resident issue. It's Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Fallbrook and the entire Valley that will be affected for decades. By the way, a thrift store named "Savers" just opened up in Murrieta & they employ 55 new people from the Temecula Valley area. So to say that the quarry will add jobs to the area as a reason to support this project is moronic. The quarry will negatively affect our health, environment, community & housing value.
Fade67 September 27, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Silica Dust Exposure Silica dust is created when sandstone, granite, and other silica-containing materials are mined, drilled, or cut. These actions can release fine particles of silica dust into the air. When the silica dust particles are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs, spurring the growth of breathing-inhibiting nodules. Even short-term exposure-as little as a few weeks-can trigger silicosis or other serious health risks. Health Risks Anyone who works around the dust released from silica – especially miners, sandblasters, and concrete laborers – is at elevated risk for exposure and related silica dust health risks. Exposure to silica dust may initially cause eye, nose, and throat irritation and shortness of breath. Over time, prolonged exposure can lead to lung damage and silicosis. Individuals who develop silicosis are also at an increased risk for developing lung cancer.
KB September 28, 2012 at 05:07 AM
I said round one because Granite is thinking long term; we'd better be ready for a very long fight that could stretch over decades.
Jeff Burleson September 29, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Hard to believe they would take such a short-sighted view and approve the mining project which may bring less than a hundred jobs to Temecula while jeopardizing thousands of other jobs in the tourism and service sector. It doesn't seem wise to burden the entire community with such a corrosive blemish (which will be permanently visible) while the wineries in the area are beginning to draw such critical acclaim the world over. This is akin to taking off in an airplane, and at the very moment you rotate off the runway, you retract the landing gear and then throttling the engines back to idle. And you know what happens next - you CRASH. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is looking to destroy one of the few nice communities it has. Bluntly, the only reason Temecula even HAS ANY ECONOMIC POWER whatsoever is because of so many of you can't afford to live in San Diego but work there and commute. Well, as far as I am concerned, maybe you should petition to be annexed into San Diego County. It would instantly drive up your property values AND we at least have a County Board of Supervisors who would protect our long term interests. It may be well worth discussing if this is how Riverside County is going to treat you anyway. This wouldn't be happening in San Diego County. Its not out of the realm of possibility for an annexation to take place.
Lindy September 29, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I was born and raised in San Diego and I have land there now. The problem is this company doesn't want to have the quarry in Lakeside or somewhere else because Riverside County is less expensive for them among other issues. It isn't Riverside that is treating us bad, it is only a few... the almighty dollar will pay anyone off no matter where they are..And, who wants to annex with San Diego? And Temecula does have economic power... many hospitals are here, schools, attys, etc... You aren't keeping us in Temecula.. yes, some commute because the housing in San Diego got falsely inflated and bet your homes aren't worth what they were. I have 3 homes there and I CHOOSE to live up here away from traffic, pollution, too many idiot people who aren't from there but have ruined the city.. so don't go telling us anything... AND YES IT WOULD AND HAS HAPPENED IN S.D.... I KNOW, I AM FROM THERE AND I AM OVER 60 yrs old.. seen it with my own eyes... how do you think SD got so expensive in the first place....You are talking to a TRUE native... get lost bud....

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