This story was modified Nov. 6, 2012 to include the vote and comments.
A proposed mining project on the outskirts of Temecula that spurred two lawsuits against Riverside County reared its head again and triumphed at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, with a 3-2 vote to allow the project fast-track status.
The board took up the matter for vote based on a report prepared by Supervisor John Benoit, with no input from staff.
Supervisors Marion Ashley, John Tavaglione and John Benoit voted for fast-tracking.
"Their minds were already made up," quarry opponent and Murrieta resident Tom Courbat told Patch.
"There's something fishy in Denmark."
Benoit wrote in the letter that the modified project would bring 75 full-time jobs to the area, generate $25 million in taxable sales and invest more than $10 million in land, building and equipment.
Included in the agenda packet for the matter was a letter submitted by Gary Johnson, aggregate resource development manager for Granite.
The materials are attached to this story as a PDF.
With fast-track status, the project could move forward to the board, rather than have to be brought before the county Planning Commission.
And in another development, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to use the same law firm as quarry developer Granite Construction to represent it in a legal challenge to the board-approved EIR of a modified quarry project.
"It’ll be approved before Christmas," Courbat told Patch.
“It’s the beginning of the end,” Courbat added.
Courbat -- along with Temecula City Council candidate Paul Jacobs -- spoke against the potential conflict of interest involved in using the same law firm as Granite to represent the county against legal challenges to its EIR approval.
Under the compacts unanimously approved by the board, Granite and the
county will be jointly represented by the Sacramento-based law firm Harrison,
Temblador, Hungerford & Johnson in defending against Temecula's suit seeking to invalidate an environmental impact report commissioned by Granite for the
The county will be represented separately by the Roseville-based firm
Cota Cole in battling Temecula's suit alleging that the county's steps to
implement fast-track procedures for mines and reclamation projects violated
In both cases, Granite is picking up the tab, according to the Office of
"What happens if there is a falling out?" Jacobs asked the board, calling the agreement with the law firm "an attorney's wet dream."
According to Jacobs, the agreement with the law firm states that should a conflict arise, the firm would side with Granite.
“This is certainly an outside the box attempt to get approval,” Jacobs said.
According to the outside law firm of Harrison, Temblador, Hungerford & Johnson, there is no conflict in the same firm representing the county and Granite because the aims are the same.
Both the county and Granite seek to survive a legal challenge to the Board of Supervisors' approval of an environmental report prepared for a modified version of the Liberty Quarry.
However, the law firm cautioned that there is always the possibilty that the interests of the two parties could diverge.
"It is important that both of the parties are comfortable with this joint representation in light of the potential for conflict to arise," reads a letter sent to the county counsel's office.
The law firm also warned that should a conflict arise, it would continue to represent Granite, to the detriment of the county.
The county would have to find other counsel -- at Granite's expense.
Detractors of the move argued that aside from the expense, the time needed to bring another firm up to speed would further drag the matter out.
The firm will keep each party apprised of the other's correspondence and actions regarding the EIR issue, the letter states.
There was no discussion before the 5-0 vote to use the the Granite law firm.
Watsonville-based Granite Construction asked the board to approve fast-track processing for the Liberty Quarry. the board rejected the 414-acre strip mine. However, about three months later, in another 3-2 vote, the board certified the 1,000-page environmental impact report that found many of the project's negative impacts could be mitigated.
the board, in a 3- 2 vote, implemented amendments to county ordinances allowing mining operations to receive fast-track consideration.
Supervisor John Benoit, a quarry advocate, sought fellow board members' support for fast-tracking the permitting phase of Granite's project, which has been modified in form and lifespan in the hope of placating opponents.
According to a letter from Granite submitted by Benoit, mining operations will be restricted to daylight hours, 160 fewer truck trips are planned to and from the site daily, the amount of product mined at the location will be slashed 25 percent, or 61 million tons, and the mining depth will be limited to 300 feet.
Granite also touted the estimated $92 million in new revenue that will accrue to the county from the project, thanks largely to tonnage fees charged to customers -- two-thirds of them in neighboring San Diego County.
The mine would be active for 50 instead of 75 years and result in more than 75 permanent jobs, according to the company.
In its letter, Granite reiterated its promise to "indemnify the county for legal challenges" that arise from the project.
The goal of the board's revised fast-track policy is to have a project vetted and voted on in 90 days in the interest of job stimulation and economic growth.
The quarry would lie just off Interstate 15 at Rainbow Canyon Road, the southern gateway to Riverside County and the Temecula Wine Country.
Quarry opponents insist the pit will 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.
Benoit and other mine supporters argue it has countywide benefits, such as increasing the supply of construction-grade aggregate -- asphalt, gravel and sand -- closest to the areas that need it most in Riverside and San Diego counties.
Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose district encompasses Temecula, pleaded with his colleagues in September to exclude mines from fast track authorization. Stone and Supervisor Bob Buster have comprised the opposition to fast-tracking, while Benoit and Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Tavaglione favor it.
Temecula filed a lawsuit in July challenging the validity of the EIR. On Oct. 10, it filed another suit seeking a reversal of the board's amendments to county law permitting accelerated reviews of proposed strip mines and reclamation projects.
According to the suit, the board behaved "prejudicially" by not giving the planning commission an opportunity to review the fast-track proposal and hold public hearings on the matter.
The city also contends the county was required by state law to allow the State Mining and Geology Board to scrutinize the plan, even though the Office of County Counsel advised the board otherwise.
--City News Service contributed to this report.