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Vote on controversial rock quarry near Temecula may come today

February 14, 2012 |  9:47 am

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors could vote Tuesday on a proposed rock quarry on a mountain overlooking the Temecula Valley -- a project that faces fierce opposition from conservative city leaders and the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians.

Almost every seat inside the board’s chamber was filled before the 9 a.m. hearing, the third session to be packed with union members in support of the rock mine and others fighting it.

In September, the Riverside County Planning Commission rejected the application for a large rock quarry -- known as the Liberty Quarry -- amid strong opposition from Temecula and the Pechanga tribal leaders. The proponent, Watsonville-based Granite Construction, appealed that decision to the board of supervisors.

The five-member board of supervisors already has held two all-day hearings on the proposed rock mine. If Tuesday's hearing lasts into the late afternoon, the supervisors could decide to delay a vote until next week.

Granite wants to develop a 414-acre rock quarry operation on a mountain that looms over Interstate 15. The proposed Liberty Quarry would mine about 270 million tons of granite from the mountain over the next 75 years, supplying concrete and asphalt to fast-growing northern San Diego County and southwest Riverside County.

Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington, in a previous hearing, said a recent city-sponsored study determined that the rock dust wafting over the valley would lead to 146 premature deaths. He said the continuous dynamiting at the quarry would decimate the area’s economy.

Granite’s Gary Johnson called those allegations ludicrous, saying regional air quality regulators determined that the project would ultimately improve air quality by taking trucks off the highways. He said the project would create 99 jobs, and hundreds of more indirect jobs, that would benefit the local economy. The operation also is hidden behind a ridge, so residents in the Temecula Valley would not see the mining operation or hear any explosions.

Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians, earlier told the supervisors that the mountain that Granite wants to mine is part of a range where Luiseno people believe life was created. He said it is akin to the Garden of Eden or Bethlehem for Christians.

To the Pechanga tribe, the peak is Pu`eska Mountain and is considered the site of the cremation of one of the First People, or Kaamalam, whose passing introduced death into the world.

The rock mine is opposed by the city of Temecula -- which tried unsuccessfully to annex the mine property -- as well as local school districts, wineries and tourism councils. More than 169 doctors in the region also mounted a campaign against the quarry, concerned that particulates from the blasting would be carried by coastal winds that blow west into the valley.


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-- Phil Willon in Riverside