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Proposed Temecula Gravel Mine Sparks Controversy

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This report originally aired January 2, 2007. 

People in the Temecula area may soon have a new neighbor that’s not welcome. A giant construction company wants to build a gravel mine. Some residents feel the project will destroy their quality of life, while a group of researchers says there’s a lot more than that at stake.

A custom built mansion in the middle of nowhere -- Bob Alkema has waited a lifetime for this. 

Alkema: It's just so pretty up here if you are here at night the stars are out, the area all across the way is all nice and dark.

About a year ago, the retired police officer and his wife bought 30 acres here in De Luz, just west of Temecula.

The couple built this 7500 square foot home exactly how they dreamed about it for years.

The outside alone has lavish landscaping, including a koi pond and more than 2000 avocado trees off in the distance. Life is just the way they want it to be, much different than in the city.

Alkema: We bought this as our dream home we built it is our dream home and now we turn around and we have the threat that of all this being destroyed for someone to put a few bucks in their pocket.

Alkema is talking about the Liberty Quarry Mine. He fears this new project proposed by Granite Construction Company will change his life as he knows it.   If built the mine would become his closest neighbor just over that hill.

Alkema: It’s supposed to be a mile long, 1000 feet deep, run 6 days a week, 20 hours a day.

The central California based company wants to use 155 acres of rural land – which is currently privately owned -- to build a rock quarry which would manufacture up to 5 million tons of aggregate and other construction materials per year.

Gary Johnson, Granite Construction: So this is the material that would be the by product of the aggregate operation.

Aggregate is basically sand and gravel, the key ingredient that goes into making concrete and asphalt, needed for roads, bridges, schools, the foundations of homes, pretty much every construction project. Southern California alone uses 7 to 10 tons of aggregate per year.

Johnson: We would come in and mine out the hard rock and then crush and strain the hard rock and run it through an aggregate plant, asphalt plant, concrete plant to make the construction materials.

Johnson – Granite’s aggregate resource development manager – says this site right on the San Diego/ Riverside County line is the ideal location for the gravel mine. It would be tucked away behind the hills, and Johnson says residents in the surrounding communities won’t see it and will hardly hear it.

Johnson: These facilities are very quiet we are not surrounded by a lot of residential areas so there will not be residents who will hear the noise. Noise is certainly not as issue with respects to this facility.

Granite has commissioned several studies, aside from the required environmental impact report that’s due by March. The additional studies include an air and noise study and the results will be available for the public’s review next year.

Johnson: These facilities are operated under stringent permits from the local agencies from air control, water boards, they have to stay in compliance with our permits and we think we do a very good job of operating our facilities and we listen to what communities say and modifying our operations if we need to do that.

But Bob Alkema and a small group of residents say studies and reports mean nothing, and Granite Construction is not listening at all. Their organization - Save Our Southwest Hills - is fighting to preserve the pristine look of the hills in the Temecula area…and that includes keeping the quarry out of the neighborhood. 

Kathleen Hamilton, Save Our Southwest Hills: People come here for a certain kind of lifestyle and it would totally destroy that lifestyle, this is the wine country. We don’t want it to become the mine country.

Hamilton moved to this community more than 30 years ago to get out of the big city. She and friend Clif Hewlett are leading the grass roots effort to stop the mine project. They say they have more than 6000 signatures from residents in all the surrounding communities. 

Hamilton: If the quarry were to go in there would be 1500 trucks a day and there would be blasting twice a day.

Hewlett: They proposed to build one of the largest mines in the country, yet they say you won’t be able to hear it, taste it or smell it, now I'll have to leave it to people’s common sense to evaluate that statement.

Hewlett says this is not a N.I.M.B.Y. issue – Not In My Backyard. But there’s another organization in the picture that says there’s a lot more at stake than quality of life. 

Dr. Matt Rahn, Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve: We have maintained the property for over four decades as pristine so that in itself attracts researchers and educators to use this property unlike what you can find anywhere in southern California.

It’s the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, owned by San Diego State University. A place unlike any other in California. Here, everything grows wild, the one road that’s been carved out has never been paved, a homestead built at the turn of the last century is still there. It’s 4600 acres of virtually untouched land.

Rahn: We’ve never denied the need for material but what’s at risk here is progress. We are putting at risk the progress of amazing scientific discoveries and one of a kind research and education facility against the extraction of a rock.

The reserve’s executive director Matt Rahn says there are more than 90 research projects currently going on at the reserve. Scientists from San Diego to Finland conducting research on habitats, global changes, and fire detection.

Rahn: Our concerns are that this area is a big sponge and digging a pit as deep as roughly the Empire State Building is high will impact the hydrodynamics of the region.

Before taking a position on the mine, Rahn says SDSU will wait for the environmental impact report. His team wants to make sure dust, air quality, water quality and seismic stability don’t become an issue. The university has hired experts from around the region to site their opinions.

Johnson: We have been engaging them in dialogue we want to know exactly what they are doing on site as far as research and how we may design our operation so we don’t impact their research.

Granite Construction says it prides itself on character – honesty, integrity and fairness. That remains to be seen as plans move forward and the issue heats up. The company plans to hold community hearings next year. Hoping to break ground in 2010.

According to Granite Construction, the mine would create 100 new jobs in the region.

 

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