By City News Service
A large turnout is expected Tuesday for the first of two public meetings on a 414-acre surface mining operation south of Temecula that opponents call a threat to the environment and supporters laud for its potential economic benefits.
The proposed Liberty Quarry project is undergoing a review by the Riverside County Planning Commission, which is considering Watsonville-based Granite Construction’s request for permits, paving the way to operations at the site.
A final environmental impact report was issued in March and found that noise, air, traffic and land-use problems arising from the quarry could be mitigated.
Planning commissioners are holding a hearing at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Rancho Community Church, 31300 Rancho Community Way in Temecula. Several hundred people are expected to attend the seven-hour forum, which will include an hourlong dinner break. Officials request that people do not arrive until after 2:30 p.m.
The church can hold more than a thousand but with so much public interest, the county will also stream the meeting live at www.rctlma.org.
Another public hearing is scheduled at the church on May 3, also at 4 p.m.
The quarry, which has been in the works for more than four years, would involve extracting rocks from hillsides at a site just off Interstate 15, near Rainbow Valley Boulevard, slightly north of the Riverside-San Diego County lines.
Granite Construction is seeking a 75-year operating window, during which an estimated five million tons of construction-grade aggregate — gravel and sand — would be mined annually.
Around 100 jobs would be created by the project, with salaries and benefits per position averaging $100,000 a year, according to Granite. The company said the quarry would add about $41 million annually to local government coffers.
The aggregate produced at the site would provide asphalt and concrete for roads, homes and other infrastructure projects, according to Granite. A report attached to the EIR indicated the mine would cut down on how far trucks have to transport aggregate for projects in northern San Diego County and southwest Riverside County, reducing pollutants, roadway use and traffic
The Greater Riverside, Lake Elsinore and Wildomar chambers of commerce have endorsed the project. The Friends of the Santa Margarita River, the Endangered Habitats League and the Rainbow Planning Group have condemned it.
In 2009, the mine was part of a territory sought by the city of Temecula for annexation. The county’s Local Agency Formation Commission eventually approved the annexation plan, ceding 4,500 acres to the city, including a nature preserve — but not the quarry.
Opponents of the project believe air quality will suffer, water tables will drop and traffic congestion will surge if mining is permitted.
Area residents also worry about how denuding hillsides will impact the location’s aesthetics. One concerned resident commented in the EIR that Granite had vowed to restore vegetation at “other quarry sites … and yet the sites look horrible by any standard.”
The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians has opposed the mine because of its proximity to tribal landmarks. A map supplement showed the quarry would be about a mile from tribal land.