Mining or grading, what's in a word?

By Sharon Rice, Editor, The Friday Flyer


Grading, quarrying, excavating, mining ? these are the words have been used to describe what is proposed for Goetz Hill. Whatever it's called, it still would be up to state regulatory agencies to define what it means to remove six million tons of material or more from the top and side of the hill, sell the aggregate and prepare a portion of the property for a commercial pad. Canyon Lake voters have a chance to voice opposition or support of such activity in Measure E.

As Vince Martin, one of the owners of the hill, said this week, "(If the project) is deemed mining, the City Council can’t do anything with the development until the state regulations are satisfied, which literally will take decades." Vince does not believe the project will be defined as "mining."

Portions of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA), a 20-page document, are cited by those who oppose the development of Goetz Hill as well as those who support it.

Barry Talbot, a former City Councilman and one of the spokespersons opposed to the development of Goetz Hill, shared with The Friday Flyer the following letter he sent to the City Council:

"During my recent detailed discussion with Mr. Steven Testa, executive director, State Mining and Geology board, I was assured that no project similar to that considered in Measure E would ever be allowed without a State of California Mining Permit, a comprehensive reclamation program, sound financial assurances, and control by a Lead Agency with a mining ordinance that has been certified by the State Mining and Geology Board.

"Already familiar with with Sky Blue's proposed idea, Mr. Testa specifically stated such a project would definitely be a surface mine and regulated accordingly.  

"I urge the City contact Mr. Testa and confirm the above information. I also urge the City to immediately cease referring to Measure E as a grading project and to publicly do so during the next Council meeting. Anything less would be a disservice to our community."

John Zaitz, a former City Councilman and spokesperson for Sky Blue, says he also has spoken with Mr. Testa, who he says told him "there are exceptions and it is up to the Lead Agency to determine whether it is a mine or not."

Sky Blue has indicated it wants to go in on a joint venture with TT Group on an adjacent portion of the hill within Lake Elsinore's city limits. According to John, "Sky Blue does not need a state mining permit and if Lake Elsinore is the Lead Agency, it would have the authority and state permit to determine whether it's a mine."

So grading or mining, excavating or quarrying, Sky Blue, TT Group and the cities of Canyon Lake and Lake Elsinore would have many regulatory hurdles to overcome before one ton of dirt is moved off the hill. These include strict environmental, planning and air quality regulations.

The only thing Measure E does is give Canyon Lake City Council members a sense of what Canyon Lakers would like to see happen with the portion of the hill that's within Canyon Lake's city limits. "The advisory vote does not approve or disapprove the development and does not have the force and effect of law," says City Attorney Elizabeth Martyn.

Sky Blue says it wants to turn its property into usable space for a retail center that can earn tax dollars for the City of Canyon Lake. If it goes in with TT Group, the pad and retail center could double in size, with tax revenue split between the cities of Canyon Lake and Lake Elsinore, according to John.

Opponents of Goetz Hill's development by Sky Blue believe Sky Blue's plans are too ill-defined to make what it calls a “lengthy surface mining operation” worth it to the City.

Sky Blue says the City of Canyon Lake would be paid 50 cents per ton (approximately $3 million) in mitigation fees over the course of the excavation/grading project. The money would be paid by the grading company, either monthly or quarterly, directly to the City, according to John.

Barry says, "The City of Temecula spent that same amount in legal fees required to stop a similar project named Liberty Quarry."

Several letter writers have claimed blasting and rock crushing equipment would create noise and dust pollution. A professional grader at a recent informational meeting claimed such an operation would be shut down by regulators if noise and dust exceeded Air Quality Management District (AQMD) guidelines. He said there would be no blasting and described how noise and dust would be mitigated through the use of sound walls and water.

The City Attorney reminds voters regarding Measure E, "The City Council has not received or processed a written development application. If a complete development proposal is filed with the City, the City still must process the application in accordance with the applicable requirements of federal, state and local law or regulations regarding development approvals and environmental review. The advisory vote does not replace such processing."