Hundreds pack contentious Riverside County hearing on proposed Temecula strip mine

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Hundreds of people jammed a Riverside County land use hearing Tuesday night for a marathon hearing over a proposed strip mine.

If county officials give the OK, Liberty Quarry would be carved into the foothills a few miles south of downtown Temecula.

Opponents far outweighed supporters at the hearing – but mine officials are taking a stand.

Liberty Mine project chief Gary Johnson came out swinging. He spent the first part of the meeting fending off a volley of attacks by Temecula leaders, local physicians and longtime residents.

“It’s hidden from view behind ridge lines," says Johnson, "you won’t know it’s there because you won’t be able to see it, hear it or feel it." Members of the crowd booed.

Supporters include respected Inland economist John Husing, hired to conduct an economic analysis. He says the quarry would generate dozens of high-paying jobs, millions of dollars in annual tax revenue and more.

“It will be bringing in about $15.1 million a year from the outside world that is, in turn, spent within Riverside County," says Husing.

But many opponents say the operation comes with a price. They say the quarry would generate hazardous silica dust and damage a nearby ecological reserve.

Workers would use explosives at the 155-acre site to blast rock loose for use in cement and asphalt. But project manager Gary Johnson points to environmental impact and county reports that say there is no credible risk to human health.

There are other worries, though. Pechanga Indian tribe chairman Mark Marcaro says the mine would scar a sacred site woven into his tribe’s creation story.

“You can’t hollow out the mountain and say, ‘OK, it looks just as it did 100 years ago,’" says Marcaro. "The proposed quarry site compromises the place of our creation myth origin. The quarry would absolutely and irrefutably destroy the integrity.”

A Riverside County planning report recommends approval. If the project gets the OK from the Planning Commission, it would still need approval from county supervisors.