County Planning Commissioners approves new sand mine in Lakeside’s Moreno Valley

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With all six San Diego County Planning Commissioners voting “yes” for the new sand mining project on Moreno Ave. in Lakeside, owner Bob Turner and his project engineer Kenneth J. Discenza are finally ready to celebrate. “It’s about time,” said Turner, pointing out that it took 20 years to reach this resolution.  Discenza is hoping to start digging on Sept. 15, but that still depends on a long list of conditions included in the Major Use Permit and Reclamation Plan.

With all six San Diego County Planning Commissioners voting “yes” for the new sand mining project on Moreno Ave. in Lakeside, owner Bob Turner and his project engineer Kenneth J. Discenza are finally ready to celebrate. “It’s about time,” said Turner, pointing out that it took 20 years to reach this resolution.  Discenza is hoping to start digging on Sept. 15, but that still depends on a long list of conditions included in the Major Use Permit and Reclamation Plan. Leading the voting board was chairman Michael Beck, environmentalist and also partner and supporter of sand mining in the El Monte Valley, another controversial project in Lakeside located near the ones in Moreno Valley.

Just one Lakesider was present and truly supportive, claiming that “everybody is coming out of the woods to protest, but they all have a cement slab under their feet.” It’s noteworthy there was nobody else in the room raising any opposing issue, considering how many people expressed disappointment during the previous local meetings and on social media that yet another sand mine hits the grounds in Lakeside. People are worrying about the environment and especially that the already problematic traffic on Moreno, Vigilante, Ashdown, Mapleview streets and State Route 67 is going to become even more congested. People on Moreno are also upset that CalTrans did not approve a traffic light that may have helped ease the jam. After talking to community members beforehand, it appears that people’s absenteeism may have been partially caused by the fact that the county voting was initially scheduled for June 9, then moved on July 14 without many people being aware of the change.

Turner’s sand mine will extract 632,000 cubic yards of sand and over 40,000 cubic yards of top soil on his property on Moreno Ave., on 19.23 acres out of 27.39 acre site. The excavation will stop just above the groundwater basin at 25 ft, after being first proposed at 80 ft, and will follow a simultaneous schedule of extraction and riparian habitat restoration for the next 15 years, producing no more than 300,000 tons of sand per year. The plan was approved to operate Monday through Saturday, 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with a county imposed limit on the number of trucks allowed in and out.

As part of the compliance with FEMA permitting process, the reclamation plan requires the owner to realign two water channels adjacent on the property, Slaughterhouse and San Vicente Creeks, to control the flow and velocity “to convey a 100-year storm event.” As previously motioned by the Lakeside Planning Committee, the project will allow the inclusion of trails along the southern property border and also the construction of a gravel pathway on Moreno Avenue.

Several conditions are imposed before the first shovel hits the ground. The Biological Resources Report states that this sand mine will cause “significant impacts to 6.18 acres of sensitive habitat” for the southern willow scrub, home to the endangered Least Bell’s vireo bird. Therefore, “8.80 acres of wetland habitat will be created or restored onsite,” in addition to approximately two more acres designated to restore the coastal sage scrub on the new realigned Slaughterhouse and San Vicente Creeks. In an effort to prevent the pollution of these two creeks through runoffs of waste, fuel and other construction materials derived from mining and maintenance, the starting date would also be dependent on the completion of a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan, among many other requirements.

The actual list of the obligatory conditions before the gong goes off is expanded on 26 pages full of items. People on Moreno and vicinities who dealt with the nearby Enniss’ sand mining operation for years and were looking forward to the end of it, claim they are overwhelmed with the prospect of yet another sand mine coming into the neighborhood. As in many other cases, they may have lost the opportunity to stop the project on CEQA grounds (California Environmental Quality Act), but they could still have ways to fight, following the other requirements yet to be met, points out Jan Chatten-Brown, an environmental attorney with CBC Law Firm in San Diego, consulted about possible ways for citizens to stop a project.

What seems to be an ever recurring underlined issue many agree upon is the lack of an unified vision for Lakeside which is now an unincorporated town with a semi-industrial profile initially deregulated which became the status quo for the past half a century. Random projects are being approved based on inconsistent reasoning without complying with a plan for the future of Lakeside. Important local groups are pulling toward building up on Lakeside’s equestrian charm and farming history (see the current Equestrian Park construction project and the fight to preserve the El Monte Valley for agriculture and equestrian trails), while others are ok with the lack of direction, which keeps the options open for everyone. Asked about the possibility of Lakeside becoming incorporated as a way of solving the lack of a coherent direction in development, Rob Harding, an employee with Bob Turner’s company, doesn’t think there would be too many people excited about abiding by stricter rules when it comes to urban expansion and environmental laws.

The sand miners and their supporters claim the traffic, pollution levels and people’s quality of life in Lakeside are not going to be significantly and forever affected by just one sand pit belonging to Enniss or Turner’s only sand mine and one isolated sand mine in El Monte Valley or the quarry on Highway 67. Narrowing it down to the “direct impacts” (on location) of one single project leaves out the “indirect effects, but most importantly, the cumulative impacts,” which are actually the most objective and exhaustive narrative for including every other project going on in the area at one point in time, as noted by Diane Nygaard, environmental activist with Sierra Club consulted on matters of traffic impact and air quality.

For example, when one looks at the big picture of Lakeside on the map, starting with just Moreno Valley and the vicinities and sees the new Equestrian Park approved to be built at Moreno and Willow Rd. (most probably next year) along with this newly approved Turner’s mining operation next to the existing Enniss pit on Vigilante Rd., then adds to that hundreds of acres of devastation planned in the El Monte Valley, plus the recently designed reconstruction of Lindo Lake (dredging on both basins), the trucks from Diamond Concrete Supply on Channel Road close to Highway 67,  then drawing the line under all of this, there is one legitimate dilemma: ok, maybe little town Lakeside can manage 30 trucks every five minutes on its main routes from one big project at any given time, but is little farming town Lakeside able to safely manage 700-1,000 trucks per day every other minute from and to sites causing tons of dust and pollution and noise and waste and debris all at once from all directions for the next 15-30 years, excluding any other current and future projects that may emerge in the mean time?

Going back to the issue of “cumulative impacts”, take a look at the map. Quarry on State Route 67, sand mine on Slaughterhouse canyon, Enniss’ sand mine on Vigilante, now Turner’s sand mine on Moreno. And that’s just one area, excluding the other sand pits plaguing the whole town. Seen from the plane or on Google Earth. Many sand mines in Lakeside ever completed a reclamation plan (the land restoration after extraction). Nonetheless, Bob Turner promises to be the first one.

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