Environmentalists opposed to the expansion of a controversial Rancho Mission Viejo rock quarry told the County Planning Commission on Wednesday that a larger operation would have a devastating and perhaps irreversible impact on the region's wilderness area.
"The bottom line here is when this project is done as proposed, are we going to be comfortable with what's left?" asked Pete DeSimone of the National Audubon Society in testimony before the panel. "They (quarry operators) are going to take down a whole ridgeline."
The commission, which Wednesday postponed a decision on the issue for two weeks, will consider a request by the Ortega Rock Quarry to triple its operating area, from the present 36 acres to as much as 126 acres. The company has also asked to extend its mining permit for up to 75 years.
Commissioners said additional time was needed to study plans that would allow new concrete and asphalt plants on the site.
Located within Lucas Canyon and bounded by Caspers Wilderness Park and Cleveland National Forest, the quarry has been operating since 1962, but in recent years has been the source of alleged permit violations, according to county records.
The quarry's alleged permit violations include operating a rock crusher without a permit and shuttling trucks in and out of the canyon on a road graded without a permit.
Julia A. Kelly, spokeswoman for the quarry operator, said Wednesday that the alleged violations occurred when the operator was not aware of changes in the permit conditions.
The expansion plans have been recommended for approval by county staffers, who described the proposal as an "environmentally superior project."
But leaders of various environmental groups told commissioners Wednesday that little attention had been paid in the state-mandated environmental study to the project's effect on existing plants and wildlife.
Ray Chandos of the Rural Canyons Conservation Fund told commissioners that an expanded quarry would interfere with existing corridors used by mountain lions and foul wilderness trails connecting the area with Caspers Park.
"They are going to trash Lucas Canyon Creek," Chandos said in an interview.