Rays of sun spill over a boulder-strewn mountain that was the proposed site… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Through seven years of disputes, a proposed rock quarry site 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 mountaintop site for $3 million and pay developer Granite Construction $17.35 million to end the dispute.
Pu'eska Mountain, as the quarry site is known, "is our people's place of creation," said Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro. "It is the Luiseño Garden of Eden, Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall."
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 meeting rooms and crowded politicians' phone lines.
Temecula officials said the mining would have polluted the city's air, plugged their freeways and hurt the tourism industry without providing benefits to their citizens. The city's hills are dotted with wineries that lure more than 500,000 visitors a year.
But supporters said the project would create 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" over the news. "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 it hasn't identified any potential 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," Macarro said.