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Forum held to discuss blasting

 

Last updated 4/24/2008 at Noon



A forum aimed at easing fears over the start of blasting and other operations at Rosemary’s Mountain quarry drew a standing-room-only audience on April 17 that peppered the project’s developer with questions and concerns.

Several residents living near the 94-acre site north of Highway 76 and east of Interstate 15 praised the project’s developer, Granite Construction Co., for holding the soon-to-be monthly forums. Some of the participants said last week’s session, held in a Pala Mesa Resort conference room, helped ease their concerns. Others were not so sure.

“I’m not entirely sure that I’m reassured, but it was very helpful and I applaud them for doing this,” said Richard Conan, a three-year resident of Rancho Monserate, which is less than one and a half miles, as the crow flies, from the mine that began blasting operations last month.

Conversely, fellow Rancho Monserate resident Sue Calnon said the nearly two-hour presentation served to calm her concerns and help her overcome her long-held opposition to the project.

“It’s going to happen,” she said following the session. “I think it’s great that they’re even willing to do this. They want to be a good neighbor. They’re trying. I think they’ll do a good job.”

Conan and Calnon were among those who raised questions during the session that attracted about 50 people.

Conan’s questions centered around truck traffic to and from the mining site near Rice Canyon Road and the transportation of explosive materials that will be used in the blasting of rock and sand. Calnon asked when the blasting began and whether it was the cause of vibrations felt recently around her home.

Granite officials said it would be difficult to answer that question unless Calnon could cite the date and time. They said it could be easy to mistake Rosemary’s Mountain operations with the firing of military ordnance at Camp Pendleton that frequently reverberates throughout the region, they said.

Granite officials and its contractors said they are pleased with the muffled volumes of the blasting done so far. They reported on four blasts conducted in recent weeks, all within permitted noise and percussion levels.

“The readings have been real good,” said Glenn Inverso, president of Lakeside-based M.J. Baxter Drilling Co. “We’ve been real pleased with that.”

Granite officials compared the noise created by drilling rigs to a motorcycle engine. The underground blasts, when monitored from equipment posted at numerous nearby locations, is slightly louder than a vacuum cleaner, they said. The closest home to the mine is about 2,500 feet away, they said.

State law prevents mine workers from setting off blasts if wind speeds exceed 15 mph, said Chris Kiser, Granite’s plant engineer. As a result, most blasting will be done before 2 p.m. and typically occur just once a week. It might be necessary to conduct blasting twice a week when workers move into areas where rock deposits are harder than the sandy portions, he said.

The Rosemary’s Mountain project is being closely watched because of past and anticipated future growth in a 10-mile stretch of Highway 76 where numerous fatal accidents have occurred in recent years.

The project is also being tracked by many area residents because numerous commercial projects are planned along the two-lane highway. They include a major expansion of the Pala Casino and resort as well as the development of a nearby motocross track and recreational vehicle park.

Not far away, the Pauma Indian tribe plans to spend about $300 million to expand its small casino and build a resort. Also, the voter-approved Gregory Canyon landfill might eventually shed its legal challenges and be developed about three miles east of I-15.

Rosemary Mountain Quarry has also drawn sharp scrutiny from Temecula-area environmental activists and citizen groups that oppose Granite’s plans to develop a larger mine atop a rugged hillside south of that city.

That project, which would mine a portion of a 414-acre site west of I-15 near Rainbow, has been dubbed Liberty Quarry. Concerns over the potential environmental impacts of Rosemary’s Mountain quarry were cited at a public forum on Liberty Quarry that was held in Old Town Temecula a day before the Pala Mesa session.

The Pala Mesa forum was directed by Sharp Resolutions, a San Diego-based mediation and arbitration firm that was hired by Granite to improve the flow of information to area residents and provide ways for them to ask questions and monitor operations at the project.

About five Granite officials, including its plant manager and senior project manager, attended the session to answer questions and make presentations that included video clips and noise level comparisons.

They provided the quarry hotline number – (760) 391-6340 – and said an Internet site will likely be launched soon to also provide blasting notices, anticipated road closures and other key information.

Splashed around the conference room were maps of the area, a scale model of the mine, drawings of plans to widen and improve a 1.3-mile stretch of Highway 76 east of I-15 and oversized sheets in which officials filled in concerns that residents have raised over mine operations and other features of the project.

Those concerns include blasting noise and vibrations, road closures and traffic congestion, air quality, water consumption and the possibility of lower property values or disruption of key wildlife habitats.

The surface mine has been in the planning process for more than two decades. The project was approved by San Diego County supervisors in 1997 and its operations permit was issued in 2002. The mine is expected to produce about one million tons of materials a year when the plant becomes fully operational in about two years, according to a report prepared for Granite by EnviroMine Inc. of San Diego.

Plans call for Granite to mine aggregate and other sand and rock materials from a 38-acre portion of its site over a 20-year period.

In conjunction with mine operations and the Pala resort expansion, work began recently in the first phase of the long-awaited widening and straightening of serpentine Highway 76.

Road closures of up to 45 minutes will be necessary during blasting and other work for about two months, Granite officials said. The company’s recent hotline recording advised drivers to expect closures of just a few minutes over the next few days.

Granite and the Pala tribe are together expected to spend about $26 million on design, construction, habitat mitigation and other costs to widen the highway to four lanes in the identified 1.3-mile segment, according to Granite informational materials. Work is expected to take about 18 months once the road construction blasting is finished, officials said.

Planning is also underway to eventually extend the Highway 76 widening project further east. Officials from Granite and Sharp Resolutions said they will soon schedule the next information forum on the quarry project, which will likely be held in June and address airborne dust and other related concerns.

“What we heard early on is that there was an information gap,” said Susan W. Garrett, an attorney and law school professor who works for the mediation firm. “This input is very important to us.”

 

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