D.A. Investigates Possible Code Violations by Rock Quarry

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Orange County district attorney's office has opened a review of potential code violations by a Rancho Mission Viejo rock quarry that is seeking to triple its operations on land set aside for a future county park.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David S. Kirkpatrick, a member of the consumer environmental protection unit, said Friday that he is reviewing documents forwarded to him by the county's Environmental Management Agency.

A decision on how to proceed "will be made in consultation" soon, Kirkpatrick said.

"I'm in the process of reviewing code sections now," Kirkpatrick said. "I have just received bits and smatterings, charts and code sections, (sketches) and factual data. I have absolutely no feeling for what will occur."

The review follows a Jan. 15 inspection of the Lucas Canyon mine site by county investigators. Thomas B. Mathews, a planning director for the county, said a report based on that tour should be ready by next week.

The Times reported that, according to county officials, Ortega Rock Quarry has run an illegal sand and gravel pit in the remote canyon about nine miles east of San Juan Capistrano for at least the past two years.

The operation ran afoul of county inspectors after it expanded from an original permit to mine boulders on 15 acres to more than 40 acres; intruded into county wilderness; contaminated a pond and stream, and lined pristine Lucas Canyon with piles of debris, according to records.

At least 10 possible violations of the county's health, water and fire codes were listed by county regulators. Although most of those problems have been corrected, the quarry continued to operate a rock crusher without a permit and shuttled trucks in and out of the canyon across Ronald W. Caspers Regional Park on a road graded without a permit, county officials said.

While the review is still in its preliminary stages, any move by the district attorney's office is welcomed by county regulators, who have targeted violations in the sand and gravel industry for special scrutiny this year. Those regulators admit frustration when trying to win legal support for their efforts.

"Most of the time these cases go nowhere when sent to the D.A.," said James A. Miller, the county's grading chief, who regulates sand and gravel operations. "In those cases that do make it to court, if the individual has corrected the problem, even when it's done only under protest and arm-twisting by the county, the court won't insist on any jail time or penalty."

Ortega Rock has submitted an application to expand its operation to 126 acres over a 75-year period. Before that application is granted, an environmental impact report would have to be conducted and the County Board of Supervisors would have to approve the expansion.

The quarry is on leased Rancho Mission Viejo land about 2 miles up picturesque Lucas Canyon, which is near Cleveland National Forest. Although the property is within 348 acres that are zoned for mining, it is part of a 2,225-acre parcel dedicated to the county as parkland in 1983 by the Santa Margarita Co. in exchange for the rights to develop the planned community of Rancho Santa Margarita.

As part of that deal, however, the entire acreage will not officially become a part of Caspers Park until the mining operation is shut down.

John R. Schmutz, the general manager of Ortega Rock, did not return phone calls for comment Friday.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°