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Liberty Quarry assailed, defended at forum

 

Last updated 5/1/2008 at Noon



A quarry project proposed south of Temecula was alternately assailed and defended at a public forum held in Temecula last week and in a thick pile of responses to a city bid to annex that site and a surrounding swath of granite-strewn hillsides.

There was no mistaking the battle lines at a public forum held by the nonpartisan group Citizens for Democracy as well as the written responses to a city plan to annex nearly 5,000 acres of rugged land at its southern boundary west of Interstate 15.

The 414-acre tract at the heart of the proposed annexation area – a bowl-shaped area known as the Liberty Quarry site – is ground zero of a long-running war being waged at public venues and behind the scenes. The skirmishes are being fought with a growing mound of studies, reports and other public records.

Forum organizers asked the mine developer, Granite Construction Co., and its foes to make presentations and field questions.

Representatives of each side cited reports, anecdotal accounts and other information to detail the potential benefits and drawbacks of the proposed surface mine. They also attacked each others’ opinions and evaluations.

Ray Johnson, a prominent De Luz environmental attorney who is active with the Save Our Southwest Hills watchdog group, told the audience that Granite has been “deceptive and manipulative” by not admitting the mine would impact air quality, increase traffic congestion, sever a crucial wildlife corridor and threaten an important ecological reserve and research field station.

“The impacts there are tremendous,” Johnson told audience members, accusing Granite representatives of using “slight-of-hand tricks” to downplay the potential impacts of plans to excavate more than 270 million tons of sand, gravel and other materials from a 155-acre portion of their site over a 75-year period.

Gary Johnson, Granite’s aggregate resource development manager, cited scientific reports, an economic analysis, aggregate shortage predictions and other data to counter criticism of plans to mine land his company has purchased or locked up in escrow.

“The facts are there,” he said. At one point, he appeared to grapple with an urge to unleash a barbed retort to his opponent’s remarks. He later attacked many of his critic’s contentions as “incorrect” and “outright false.”

The conclusion of the presentations was followed by a session in which audience members broke into small groups to dissect the issues. In the end, the groups concluded that the mine’s possible environmental drawbacks would outweigh any tax windfalls, jobs or other potential benefits to the area.

“There are no positive effects. They are all negative,” said Ken Ray, a former Temecula schools trustee who served as the spokesman for one of the seven tables of forum participants.

On another front, the dueling Johnsons also figured prominently in Temecula’s hotly-debated bid to annex land south of its boundary that includes the mine site, the sprawling Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve and scattered private tracts that together contain about six homes.

Temecula resident R.A. Bennett took a sharper approach by questioning whether city efforts to annex the land of unwilling property owners is akin to “imposing the will of government on its citizens.” He said Temecula has higher priorities than a bid to “grab more land” that would require costly city services.

“This process wherein the city of Temecula is reaching out to an unincorporated area and annexing for a questionable objective is patently wrong,” Bennett wrote.

 

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