Supervisors’ Discord over Controversial Quarry Undiminished

RIVERSIDE – Two Riverside County supervisors with opposing positions on a proposed strip mine near Temecula that’s now off the table stuck to their viewpoints today, with one saying his colleagues’ actions have made any issue ”fair game,” including a shelved jail project near Palm Springs that he believes should be resurrected.

”The rules of engagement have changed on the Board of Supervisors,” said Supervisor Jeff Stone. ”I’m going to play by the new rules that have been set unless the board wants to come together and return to the way we used to do things and respect district boundaries.”

Stone and Supervisor Bob Buster have, since May, been the minority votes against the 414-acre Liberty Quarry. Watsonville-based Granite Construction had proposed establishing the quarry on an escarpment off of Interstate 15 and Rainbow Canyon Road, just south of Temecula, in what serves as the southern gateway to Riverside County and the Temecula Wine Country.

The mine was opposed by an overwhelming majority of Temecula Valley residents, who pointed to potential environmental damage, air quality depletion and impact on the wine country image.

The seven-year battle to resolve whether the quarry would go ahead or be stopped in its tracks ended today with the announcement that the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians had bought the site from Granite.

”I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving greeting,” said Stone, whose third district encompasses Temecula. ”This has been a roller-coaster ride for all of us, and now we finally have closure to this issue.”

Supervisor John Benoit, whose fourth district covers the Coachella Valley, also greeted word of the land deal warmly.

”I praise both Granite … and the tribe today for reaching a mutually beneficial agreement,” the supervisor said.

Benoit led the effort to bring Liberty Quarry to fruition, triggering friction between him and Stone, who questioned the motivation for his colleague’s unshakable support for a project almost two hours driving time from Palm Springs.

Benoit, who referred to Granite as a “friend” to the Coachella Valley, insisted he was only interested in having a mine in the southwestern corner of the county to increase the local supply of construction-grade aggregate, including asphalt and gravel. The former state lawmaker said a new quarry would mean fewer gravel trucks lumbering across the county, stressing roads and adding to vehicular pollution.

”The problem remains that we still have a looming shortage of aggregate in southwestern Riverside County,” he said. ”Trucks travel excessive long distances through our county to send aggregate to this region and beyond … With Pechanga’s assistance, Granite can hopefully find a new site and begin preparation for a new quarry that is much needed in the region.”

Stone said the mine’s downsides far outweighed any potential advantages and felt certain the ”bogus” claims in the Liberty Quarry environmental impact report would have sealed the project’s fate in court. The city of Temecula filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s certification of the EIR in May and another suit seeking to undo its 3-2 decision last month to allow fast- tracking of proposed mines.

”Granite would have been taking its chances with a weak EIR,” Stone said. ”The company could have been on the hook for millions of dollars in legal fees. Now it’s walking away with money in its pocket.”

The Pechanga tribe will be forking over $3 million for the quarry site.

Stone said the majority of his colleagues were ”foolish” to cast aside the long-established but unwritten rule of letting the supervisor in whose district a project will be located take the lead in determining whether it should move ahead.

”Now it’s fair game for any supervisor to go into another supervisor’s district and decide a project’s worth,” Stone said. ”Everybody can buy into it.”

He said the previously scuttled Hub Jail in Whitewater will be on his list of projects to reconsider. Benoit and Supervisor Marion Ashley, citing high costs, succeeded last year in gaining unanimous board support to table the proposed 5,000-bed facility, which proponents argue would relieve overcrowding in local jails.

Coachella Valley tourism and hospitality groups say the jail — which would be visible from Interstate 10 on the eastern approach to Palm Springs — would mar the area’s image and hurt business.

”This thing would be 10 miles away from Palm Springs, It wouldn’t impact tourism,” Stone said. ”I will continue to advocate for it.”

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