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Pechanga tribe buys land, ending Riverside County quarry dispute

Proposed Liberty Quarry site

Through seven years of disputes, a proposed rock quarry in Riverside County has been called a job creator, an economy killer, an environmental disaster and even a creation site.

The debate ended Thursday, when the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians agreed to purchase 354 acres of the site for $3 million and pay developer Granite Construction $17.35 million to end the dispute.

The site "is our people’s place of creation…. It is the Luiseño Garden of Eden, Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall," said Pechanga tribal Chairman Mark Macarro.

Under the agreement, Granite Construction cannot own or operate a quarry within a 90-square-mile zone centered on the property for 23 years. The tribe has agreed to help the developer identify alternative sites for a quarry.

The 414-acre quarry was proposed in 2005 and would have produced about 200 million tons of concrete over several decades. More than two-thirds of the rock mined would have supplied San Diego County, where mining permits are harder to obtain.

Liberty Quarry, as it was called, pitted city leaders, residents and environmentalists against county government and unions in a bitter battle that packed public meetings and jammed politicians’ phone lines.

Temecula officials said the mining would have polluted that city’s air, plugged its freeways and hurt the tourism industry without providing benefits to citizens. The city’s hills are dotted with wineries that lure more than 500,000 visitors a year.

Additionally, Pechanga leaders said the proposed site sits atop what they call Pu’éska Mountain, part of a range where tribal legends say life was created.

But supporters said the project would have created hundreds of blue-collar jobs, contribute millions of dollars to sales tax revenue and cut the distance that trucks would have to travel to construction sites.

The Riverside County Planning Commission initially rejected the project in February, but the county Board of Supervisors certified the project’s environmental impact report in May and recently voted to fast-track the quarry’s review.

The project’s longtime opponents breathed a sigh of relief at Thursday’s news. Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington said he was ecstatic.

“To be honest, it feels a little bit like Christmas,” Washington said.

Granite Construction’s President and Chief Executive James H. Roberts said the company remains "committed to Western Riverside and San Diego counties" and wants to grow its business there. But spokeswoman Karie Reuther said they haven’t identified any potential new locations.

In a speech delivered from atop a parking structure at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Macarro said the tribe has no plans for the land beyond preservation

"From our Luiseño cultural standpoint, the area holds tremendous potential to learn and recover even more of our history and culture. There is arguably no more pristine land in the Temecula Valley than Pu’éska Mountain," he said.

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-- Frank Shyong

Follow Frank Shyong on Twitter.

Photo: Rays of sun drop down over a boulder–strewn mountain that was the proposed site of Liberty Quarry. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

 
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