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Liberty Quarry public hearing draws large crowd - some voice concern; some voice support


Last updated 1/31/2012 at Noon

The Board of Supervisors and the audience hear a report from Riverside County Planning Director Carolyn Syms-Luna before the Granite project was discussed. Granite handed out green shirts, hats and bandannas to people who were there to support the quarry. People in opposition wore the recognized orange.

RIVERSIDE - A public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 31, to consider a mining company's appeal for approval of a quarry project near Temecula drew several hundred people to the Riverside Convention Center, where supporters and opponents voiced their concerns to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. A marked difference at this meeting, versus previous public hearings, was the level of support for the Liberty Quarry project.

Kari Reuther from Granite said, "Today was clear evidence that, with unemployment at more than 12%, local residents support new jobs. More than 600 Riverside County residents came out from the far reaches of the region today to show their support for Liberty Quarry and the new jobs and revenue it will bring to our region. These people recognize the need for this project, not only because it will create new jobs but because it will provide the materials we need to build our future roads, schools and hospitals."

The Department of Conservation has reported that Riverside County will run out of needed aggregate in the next 10-20 years if no new sources are permitted. Much of this material is currently being imported through Riverside County to projects in Southwest Riverside and San Diego Counties.

The meeting was organized so that supporters of Granite were to speak first, with the exception of elected officials who were allowed to voice their opinions first, whether they were pro or con.

Temecula City Councilman Ron Roberts said, "The mine will kill that mountain. The quarry will drain away the ground water and just suck the life out of vegetation ... The gateway entrance to (southwest) Riverside County will be a dead mountain with a one-mile train of trucks heading toward it. Is it really worth a few jobs?''

He maintained that the operation would increase pollution to levels that threaten the area's wine vineyards.

Riverside County’s Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), released last year, concluded the County would be better off economically and environmentally with Liberty Quarry and by taking the trucks that are presently bringing aggregate from other areas off the road, Liberty Quarry would actually improve the region’s air quality, but people opposing the project disagree.

"You're talking about a giant open pit blasting mine,'' added Temecula City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards. "It would be the biggest, most harmful project in Riverside County. No corporate business decision is worth the impacts this mine will have on the people and the place itself.''

Watsonville-based Granite Construction is asking the Board of Supervisors to overrule a decision by the county planning commission last year to deny grading and zoning permits for the Liberty Quarry.

Some homeowner and environmental groups, as well as the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, are staunchly opposed to the project. The Temecula Chamber opposes the project. Supporters include virtually all the rest of the chambers of commerce located within the county, along with officials from cities throughout the central and eastern county regions.

"We in the Coachella Valley understand the need for the Liberty Quarry,'' said La Quinta Mayor Pro Tem Terry Henderson. "Liberty Quarry is positioning Riverside County for its future and present needs. Money is not the driving force; good public policy is.''

"Riverside County needs more aggregate ... for roads, schools and other public facilities,'' said Menifee Mayor John Denver. "Right now, we're trucking in aggregate from far-reaching places. We're paying for the higher costs associated with that. Having this (quarry) is vital to the sustainability of our region.''

The project zone would lie just north of the boundary separating Riverside and San Diego counties, east of the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve and west of Temecula, adjacent to Interstate 15 and Rainbow Valley Boulevard. The actual quarry site is in an area almost completely hidden, with hills blocking the view from the ground or neighboring homes.

Opponents argue the quarry would result in noise, pollution, drainage and habitat changes that have lasting repercussions.

"Our tribe has gone to great lengths to communicate to Granite the importance of this area,'' said Corrina Sanchez, a member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians' council. "No mitigation will alleviate the effects of this project, other than moving it away from the mountain, which is an essential element of tribal identity.''

Members of the tribe repeatedly emphasized that the escarpment where mining is planned is a "creation place'' with great "spiritual significance.''

According to Granite, Pechanga’s land does not border the project, which is on the opposite side of the freeway and, in fact, Pechanga’s map shows that their sacred site of creation is 1.7 miles from Liberty Quarry and closer to their own tribal development, where they've used tons of aggregate for their casino, hotel, parking structure, etc.

In addition to the final environmental impact report issued last March that found that most land-use problems arising from the project could be mitigated, air quality testing that has taken place near the Rosemary’s Mountain quarry, also owned by Granite Construction, has reported air quality testing results well below state and federal standards.

Visit this link for Rosemary's Mountain test results:

Planning commission staff recommended that the board vote in favor of it, providing various conditions were met.

After determining that the project "footprint'' could be shrunk to around 135 acres, commissioners were optimistic that it could move forward. However, after listening to more than 50 hours of testimony and reviewing several hundred letters and emails -- most of them negative -- the commission voted against the quarry.

Commissioners cited elevated levels of silica dust and other pollutants in the first two years of the project, the permanent impact on area aesthetics, including nighttime lights, and the adverse effects on area wildlife as reasons for opposition.

Granite Construction is seeking a 75-year operating window, during which it plans to remove an estimated five million tons of construction-grade aggregate -- gravel and sand.

Around 100 direct jobs and nearly 200 collateral jobs would be created by the project, according to Granite. Planning commission staff estimated the quarry would add about $341 million annually to local government coffers.

The aggregate extracted at the mine would provide asphalt and concrete for roads, homes and other infrastructure projects, Granite officials said.

A final public hearing is set for Feb. 6.

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Supporters of the quarry during the "pro" portion of the hearing wave bandannas to show support.


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