Divided board enacts 'fast-tracking' ordinance
Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
Issue 39, Volume 16.
The vote was 3-2.
Divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors okays 'fast-tracking' mining projects
RIVERSIDE - Following four hours of impassioned testimony and debate, a divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors today tentatively approved a plan to allow mining projects to receive expedited scrutiny using a "fast-track" approval process.
"Don't put our beautiful landscape on the fast-track to becoming a pit," said Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington, one of more than three dozen people who addressed the board about the Liberty Quarry. "Why would you want to destroy the county's (southern) entrance?"
Proponents of the Liberty Quarry project claim that the project won't be seen from the ground level.
According to a press release from Granite Construction, the scaled-down project includes unprecedented per-ton fees to Riverside County’s General Fund and will generate 662 jobs and have significantly fewer environmental impacts.
Washington and other quarry opponents easily outnumbered speakers in support of the mine, which, though not on the agenda, became the predominant subject as it pertains to fast-tracking.
Board Chairman John Tavaglione, along with Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit, voted in July to draft an ordinance that would qualify surface mining and reclamation projects for fast-track reviews. The same trio voted today to introduce the proposed ordinance, which is set to be formally adopted in the next few weeks.
Supervisors Jeff Stone and Bob Buster cast dissenting votes.
By Benoit's own admission, fast-tracking has a "direct relationship" to the Liberty Quarry.
"I have never wavered in my feeling since the end of the public hearings on that project that (it has) countywide benefits," Benoit said today.
The board voted down that proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15 in February. However, three months later, the swing voter against the project, Tavaglione, sided with Ashley and Benoit in certifying an environmental impact report, which concluded many of the mine's negatives could be mitigated.
Riverside County’s Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), released last year, concluded the County would be better off economically and environmentally with Liberty Quarry and by taking the trucks that are presently bringing aggregate from other areas off the road, Liberty Quarry would actually improve the region’s air quality.
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, proposing a scaled-down version of its original quarry.
Granite asked the Department of Planning to consider fast-tracking its application for permits. However, county ordinances currently did not allow for expedited vetting of proposed mines.
At 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.
Opponents of Liberty Quarry believe the pit 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.
Third party testing at nearby Rosemary's Mountain quarry doesn't support the fears of opponents as related to silica dust and air quality issues.
Stone, whose district includes Temecula, urged the board to consider adding an amendment to the fast-track policy specifying that any project proposed for expedited review originate with the supervisor in whose district the project will be located.
Only Buster supported the motion.
Stone said he found it difficult to believe three of his four board colleagues were willing to ignore his constituents and place mining interests above those of residents.
"I feel I've been a good partner to each member of this board," the supervisor said. "I had a great working relationship with the late Supervisor Roy Wilson (Benoit's predecessor). I don't believe Roy Wilson would be trying to force his will on my constituents. Supervisor Benoit, whom I respect, has left me extremely disappointed and created the most divisive issue this board has seen."
Stone compared digging a quarry on the Temecula gateway to putting a strip mine in the hills fronting La Quinta.
"The people would be outraged with something like that scarring their landscape," he said.
Stone called the repeated references to the 100 or so jobs that might be created at the Liberty Quarry a "smoke-and-mirrors" pretext to make the project more appealing.
Members of several nationally affiliated trade unions voiced strong support for the quarry, and fast-tracking in general, for the sake of getting unemployed construction workers back on the job.
"This is the worst time in the history of the labor movement going back to the Great Depression," said union organizer John Smith. "Men are losing their homes, their health care. Some of our members have been out of work for five years. This country is weakened when people are not working."
Benoit called the day's proceedings"difficult" but reiterated his belief that the Temecula Valley mine would offer more advantages than disadvantages. He particularly liked the idea of trucks hauling construction- grade aggregate -- asphalt and gravel -- nearer to their project sites in southwest Riverside County and San Diego County.
"Aggregate would be transported a shorter distance," Benoit said. "If you have to transport it twice as far, the costs go up, there are more gravel trucks on the road and air quality is reduced."
Stone accused Benoit of acting to provide his "friends at Granite Construction with a 'get out of jail free' card" by keeping the Liberty Quarry project alive. Benoit, a former state legislator, has acknowledged receiving "modest" campaign contributions from the company.
At one point, Stone pleaded with Supervisor Marion Ashley to oppose the fast-tracking proposal, reminding him of the many times he had backed his colleague's initiatives in the fifth district.
"I've always been collegiate with the board," Stone said. "But all that goes down the drain unless we can show that we are fair."
Ashley replied that no supervisor should treat his district as if it were a "kingdom" and the supervisor is a "king."
Tavaglione, who is running for a congressional seat, said he would support implementing fast-track authorizations for "every damn project" possible, completely bypassing the planning commission, to bring down the county's 13 percent unemployment rate.
According to a press release submitted by Granite Construction, the revised Liberty Quarry Project is smaller and its potential impacts are less than those of the original project as studied in the Liberty Quarry EIR which was certified by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in May. Changes in the application for the revised project include:
Establishment of a proposed $0.20 per ton fee that will generate $92 million in new revenue for Riverside County of which an estimated $61.3 million will be paid by San Diego County users
30% reduction in life of the project (25 fewer total years)
20% reduction in maximum truck trips per day (160 fewer truck trips/day)
25% reduction in maximum aggregate production over the life of the project (reduced from 235 million to 174 million tons over the life of the project)
20% reduction in annual production (1 million fewer tons per year)
30% reduction in mining depth (300 feet)
Mining activity will be restricted to daylight hours only
Reducing the size, production, hours of operation and depth of Liberty Quarry will result in corresponding and significant reductions in the number of truck trips, the project life and the annual tonnage, said Gary Johnson, aggregate resource development manager for Granite Construction.
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