Options for Granite if board deniesLiberty Quarry project

CALIFORNIAN   Sunday, January 01, 2012  

Options for Granite if board deniesLiberty Quarry project

 by AARON CLAVERIE     aclaverie@californian.com

Some of the people following the debate over a quarry proposed south of Temecula recently posed an interesting "what if" question.
If the Riverside County Board of Supervisors votes to reject the appeal filed by Northern California-based Granite Construction, would that sound the death knell for the company's Liberty Quarry project?
The answer, according to a Granite representative, a Temecula environmental attorney and the county: Not exactly.
Last month, Granite filed an appeal of the countyPlanning Commission's recent denial of the project, a 135-acre open pit mine proposed for land near the unincorporated area of De Luz, the city of Temecula's southern border and the San Diego Countycommunity of Rainbow. That appeal will be considered by the board early this year.
If the board rejects the appeal, it would be difficult for Granite to challenge the board's decision via a lawsuit, said both Granite project manager Gary Johnson and environmental attorney Ray Johnson.
"The likelihood of winning that would be less than 1 percent," Ray Johnson said. "Basically, you'd have to prove the board's decision was made without any factual backup at all. ... There's virtually no chance it could be challenged in court."
But there is another option for the company: Gary Johnson said Granite could file an amended application.
In that scenario, there's a possibility the new application would need to be accompanied by some fresh technical studies, or edits of existing studies and environmental reports.
Addressing that possibility, county spokesman Ray Smith said a new environmental impact report would have to be done.
"The same studies could be resubmitted, with some caveats. But they would have to be reviewed by staff as completely new studies," he said.
When Gary Johnson was asked whether Granite was willing to invest money in a new application ---- the company already has spent about $10 million to date ---- he said the company hasn't yet made a determination.
He said the company's focus is on seeing the project approved and putting people to work.
Granite has said the quarry will create 100 high-quality jobs and start a positive economic ripple effect in Southwest County because the mine will provide a new local source of aggregate rock material.
Opponents of the project, a group that now includes the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, say the economic benefits of the project are trumped up and largely illusory, because the mine could end up hurting the area's vibrant tourism industry, in part because of air pollution produced by the mine.
If the board ends up overruling the commission and approving the project, Ray Johnson said the course of action is clear.
Opponents would file a suit challenging the county's environmental review of the project, and Johnson, the attorney, said he is confident the suit would have a good chance of succeeding.
The environmental documentation, he said, is woefully insufficient with regard to the cultural issues that have been brought up by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and the traffic studies that have been challenged by city of Temecula consultants.
On the cultural issues, Pechanga leaders have said that the mine project would destroy land tied to its creation story.
Granite has said the mine is proposed for land well away from the confluence of the Murrieta and Temecula creeks that is referenced in the story as the wellspring of the Pechanga people, essentially its "Garden of Eden."
Ray Johnson said that argument probably will not prevail because there is documentation that shows the swath of land that the tribe considers sacred extends far beyond that confluence.
"It's a much, much broader area than that," he said.
The county Planning Department has defended its review of the project, saying that the large body of documentation produced meets both county and state requirements.
Call staff writer Aaron Claverie at 951-676-4315, ext. 2624.

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