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Temecula Slams County's Move To Fast-Track Mining Projects

"Mr. Benoit, like a Sacramento veteran working on behalf of one of your largest campaign contributors, you've led the county to this shameful day," said Temecula City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards.

After a contentious 4 1/2-hour meeting, a divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors today approved a proposal to amend county ordinances to enable expediting reviews of projects -- including the heavily opposed Liberty Quarry mining project near Temecula -- using a "fast-track" process.

Supervisors voted 3-2 to add surface mines to the list of projects that can bypass the county's planning commission and head straight to the supervisors for consideration -- a process known as fast-tracking.

Supervisors Bob Buster and Jeff Stone were the dissenting votes.

Dozens of people crowded into the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside for the board's final meeting before summer recess, with many attendees addressing the supervisors about the controversial Liberty Quarry.

The board voted down the proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15 in February. However, in an unexpected turn three months later, the swing voter against the project, Chairman John Tavaglione, sided with Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit in certifying an environmental impact report that concluded many of the mine's negatives could be mitigated.

By accepting the EIR, the county left open the door for Watsonville-based Granite Construction to return with a modified plan for mining the site. Last week, the company did just that, proposing a scaled-down version of its original proposed quarry.

The company asked the Department of Planning to consider fast-tracking its application for permits. However, county ordinances do not allow for expedited vetting of proposed mines.

At virtually the same time as Granite's announcement, Benoit introduced a proposal to revise county regulations so that mines, too, can receive fast-track approval, meaning a project could be out of the review stage and voted on by the board in 90 days.

"This would be designed to allow for certain types of projects that have job-creating potential to have a quicker turnaround time," Benoit said.

Opponents of Liberty Quarry believe the pit mine would 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.

"Mr. Benoit, like a Sacramento veteran working on behalf of one of your largest campaign contributors, you've led the county to this shameful day," said Temecula City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards. "(By fast-tracking), you want to sidestep due process and avoid scrutiny. When you make decisions like this, you must think long-term."

Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington reminded the board that the city is suing the county to have the Liberty Quarry EIR invalidated.

"Why would you change your laws to allow impactful mining projects all over Riverside County?" Washington said. "This isn't a minor change; this is a major change. Mr. Benoit, can you imagine considering a proposal to make the entire Tahquitz Canyon a quarry after just a 90-day review? Fast track bypasses a valuable review process carried out by the planning commissioners."

Temecula resident and civic activist Paul Jacobs accused Benoit of setting the stage for a district-versus-district "civil war" by plowing ahead with fast-tracking plans.

Speakers, and even Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose district encompasses Temecula, asked Benoit to respect district boundaries by tabling any plans to further Granite's interests.

Benoit replied that the company had been a "friend" to the Coachella Valley, providing steady jobs and respecting environmental concerns for decades. He denied receiving anything more than "modest" campaign contributions from the company over the last three years.

"There's a lot of emotion here today," the supervisor said. "I'm surprised by some of the hurtful, unsubstantiated attacks impugning my reputation. But people are using emotion instead of facts."

The supervisor reiterated his support for the Liberty Quarry, noting that having a site producing construction-grade aggregate -- asphalt and gravel -- in southwest Riverside County would dramatically reduce the amount of truck traffic countywide and lower the cost of residential and commercial building in the western county region.

Stone retorted that 70 percent of the aggregate would be going to neighboring San Diego County.

"We need to do the right thing and not fast-track this project," the supervisor said. "Let's review it prudently and responsibly so there's not even the appearance of impropriety. I don't want this county to take over the headlines like that other county (San Bernardino) has.

"I promise you that this project will not reduce unemployment by one- thousandth of one percent," Stone added. "This is all smoke and mirrors ... We cannot sacrifice the health and welfare of the citizens of this county."

Tavaglione, again, was the swing vote, saying he supported implementing fast-track authorizations for "every project in the county," if such were possible.

"I'll be damned if I'm going to let this become an election issue," Tavalgione, who is running for a congressional seat, told the crowd of quarry opponents. "There are some of you trying to make it that ... We need to do everything we can to turn this economy around."

According to Granite, the revised quarry project would entail a 45-year operating window, instead of 75 years, as was originally proposed.

More than 60 permanent jobs would be created at the site, with several hundred indirect jobs resulting from the project, according to the company. 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.

Currently, some commercial projects can be fast-tracked if they 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.

By the end of August, county attorneys are expected to submit proposed amendments for board consideration that provide for fast-track review procedures on mines, reclamation projects and other large-scale enterprises.

Jacob Stillman August 01, 2012 at 10:16 PM
I agree LER,,,,,,Melissa Melendez is another Republican on the edge of fear and paranoia. Did we not see what happened with our current Tea Party House of Representatives in DC?? What have they done?? Nothing.
Cheri August 02, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Temecula Resident...tell everyone which branch of the FBI to contact, and everyone do it...these people are being bribed, and I thought that was against the law???especially John Tavaglione? This was voted out and proven in every way to be unhealthy, and will ruin the beautiful city...these supervisors do not live here, and are just in it for their kickback...I personally think they will get found out and BLOWN out of the water-the people in this city have spoken, and there was a vote already made-the Pechanga Indians are totally against it-something from the BIG MAN IN THE SKY WILL MAKE THEM GO AWAY!!! every doctor in the area is against it....60 jobs to ruin a whole city?. Maybe they will be the producers of granite headstones for all of the death it will cause? That will make Temecula a real tourist attraction! Put the proper people like the FBI in the local penneysaver...get it out there -git er done!
Brave Heart August 02, 2012 at 11:08 PM
The Supervisors get to add "created jobs to help the economy" to their resume and the voters in Riverside County will vote according to political lines. The voters that do not live in the Temecula area do not care about our issue as long as the revenue benefits the county as a whole. This happens all over the country, politicians selling out to big business and bolstering resumes with job creation. The uninformed follow along because that is what their political party persuades them is the "Right" way to vote. Why not fast track a quarry in the backyard of Benoit, Tavaglione, and Ashley? I will support that.
denise lemieux August 03, 2012 at 02:31 AM
I agree just follow the Money trail. Temecula is the best thing Riverside co. has going. I will sent the and e-mail to the FBI to investigate loss creeps.
Chris August 03, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Don't forget to contact you state assembly members. They have more jurisdiction than our Senators and House of Represenative members. It was cool getting a reply email from Barbara Boxer today.

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