for story update.
A proposal to speed up the approval process for mining projects in Riverside County was being considered by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors today. An engineering firm is seeking such a "fast-track" review of plans for a scaled-down version of a previously rejected mine south of Temecula.
Supervisor John Benoit is asking colleagues to support amending two ordinances that provide for how and when permits should be issued for surface mining and reclamation projects.
Under Benoit's proposal, such projects would be eligible for "fast- track" consideration by county officials. Existing county regulations require mining firms to go through a lengthy evaluation prior to the issuance of permits.
Board policy A-32 offers fast-track processing of applications for commercial projects whenever certain criteria are met, including that an enterprise will create 40 or more full-time jobs, result in at least $5 million in capital investment or generate at least $12.5 million taxable sales.
Once fast-track status is granted, developers' applications, site plans and other documents needed for project approval undergo an accelerated review by an ad hoc Land Development Committee. The goal is to have a project out of the planning stages and voted on by the board within 90 days.
Granite's original 414-acre quarry plan was voted down 3-2 by the board on Feb. 16. Supervisors Benoit and Marion Ashley supported the strip mine while Supervisors Bob Buster, Jeff Stone and John Tavaglione opposed it.
In an unexpected reversal, three months later, the board voted 3-2 in favor of certifying an 8,500-page environmental impact report -- commissioned by Granite -- that concluded many negative aspects of the proposed mining operation could be mitigated.
Tavaglione was the swing vote, explaining that he wanted to give Granite an "opportunity to come up with some level of project (in the future) that works." Critics accused him of catering to big business in his bid for a congressional seat.
The city of Temecula has filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging that it failed to fairly and adequately analyze the EIR. According to the suit, the county did not vet all available data, including reports that suggested the original environmental assessment was deficient.
The city is seeking to have the EIR invalidated.
Quarry opponents have condemned it over concerns about elevated levels of silica dust and other pollutants, the permanent impact on area aesthetics, including nighttime lights and interruptions to rural peace, as well as adverse effects on wildlife.
Supporters, including union interests and representatives from chambers of commerce throughout central and eastern Riverside County, pointed to prospective jobs and the increased availability of construction-grade aggregate, which is needed to build roads, houses and commercial structures, as major benefits.
According to Granite, the revised quarry project would entail a 45-year operating window, instead of 75 years, as was originally proposed.
There would be 160 fewer truck trips to and from the site per day; the total amount of aggregate removed from the mine would be reduced from 235 million to 174 million tons; the mine depth would be 300-feet less; and mining activity would be restricted to daylight hours, according to Granite.