A proposal to speed up the approval process for mining projects in Riverside County will be considered by the Board of Supervisors
next week, just days after an engineering firm submitted a request seeking a ”fast-track” review of plans for a scaled-down version of a previously rejected mine near Temecula.
Supervisor John Benoit will ask colleagues Tuesday to support amending two ordinances that determine how and when permits should be issued for surface mining and reclamation projects “Under Benoit’s proposal, such projects would be eligible for ”fast- track” consideration by county officials.
Existing county regulations require mining firms to go through a lengthy evaluation before permits are issued.
The proposal, board policy A-32, offers fast-track processing of permit applications for commercial projects whenever certain criteria are met, including that an enterprise will create 40 or more full-time jobs, result in at least $5 million in capital investment or generate at least $12.5 million in taxable sales.
Once fast-track status is granted, developers’ applications, site plans and other documents needed for project approval will undergo an accelerated review by an ad hoc Land Development Committee.
The goal is to have a project out of the planning stages and voted on by the board within 90 days.
Benoit’s proposal coincides with an application filed Wednesday July 25 with the Department of Planning by Watsonville-based Granite Construction to have a modified version of its proposed Liberty Quarry receive fast-track consideration.
Granite’s original 414-acre quarry plan was voted down 3-2 by the board on Feb. 16. Supervisors Benoit and Marion Ashley supported the strip mine, while Supervisors Bob Buster, Jeff Stone and John Tavaglione opposed it.
In an unexpected reversal three months later, the board voted 3-2 in favor of certifying an 8,500-page environmental impact report commissioned by Granite that concluded many concerns about the proposed mining operation could be mitigated.
Tavaglione was the swing vote, explaining that he wanted to give Granite an “opportunity to come up with some level of project (in the future) that works.”
Critics said the board chairman’s action was politically motivated. Tavaglione is running for Congress.
The city of Temecula sued the county this week, alleging that it failed to fairly and adequately analyze the Enviromental Impact Report. According to the lawsuit, the county did not vet all available data, including reports that suggested the original environmental assessment was deficient.
The city is seeking to have the EIR invalidated.
Quarry opponents have raised concerns about elevated levels of silica dust and other pollutants, the permanent impact on area aesthetics, including nighttime lights and disruptions to rural peace, as well as adverse effects on wildlife.
Supporters, including union interests and representatives from chambers of commerce throughout central and eastern Riverside County, pointed to prospective jobs and the increased availability of construction-grade aggregate, which is needed to build roads, houses and commercial structures, as major benefits.
According to Granite, the revised quarry project would require a 45-year operating window, instead of 75 years, as was originally proposed.
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, according to Granite.
Project manager Gary Johnson said 75 permanent jobs would be created, while 587 construction and indirect positions would be supported by the mine, situated just west of Interstate 15 at Rainbow Valley Boulevard.