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Suit Contends Mining Hurt Trabuco Creek

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Orange County district attorney filed a lawsuit Monday claiming that a South County mining company has repeatedly polluted Trabuco Creek, damaging the stream bed and destroying sensitive natural habitat.

The suit in Orange County Superior Court alleges that San Juan Capistrano-based Mission Viejo Materials Inc. has also refused to comply with a 2-year-old agreement with the California Department of Fish and Game to correct damage to the creek, which winds from Trabuco Canyon southwest to Doheny State Beach.

“They dug into the stream bed and in some instances placed fill dirt within the stream bed,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Valerie A. Griswold said. “But the major concern is about the agreement. Mission Viejo Materials forged an agreement with the Department of Fish and Game to rectify and remedy the impacts and they have failed to do that.”

Howard Lemieux, president of Mission Viejo Materials, didn’t return phone calls for comment Monday. Griswold said the company was sent a draft copy of the complaint two weeks ago.

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The damaged area is a three-mile stretch running north from Avery Parkway toward Oso Parkway on Rancho Mission Viejo land in Mission Viejo. Mission Viejo Materials has leased property for its 600-acre mining operation from the Santa Margarita Co. for the past six years.

The company mines sand and gravel for use in construction, particularly for road building, which is especially busy now because of toll road and freeway widening projects underway in the South County area.

Griswold contends that about 150 acres, much of it along the creek, have been damaged by mining and “another major concern is 100 to 200 more acres which could be subject to their mining operations.”

Several endangered species of birds, including the least bell’s vireo, live in the riparian habitat along the creek, Griswold said.

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“We are very concerned about the damage to the habitat,” Griswold said. “Our state has less than 10% of its riparian habitat left. It’s critical to restore it to its natural state.”

Griswold said she will seek a temporary restraining order today in Superior Court to halt the mining operation in the damaged area. The county is seeking to recoup costs of its investigation and perhaps any fines “that are deemed appropriate,” Griswold said.

“We are not seeking a listed sum (for damages) at this juncture,” Griswold said. “The number one thing is to get the environment back in order.”

Griswold said the problems in the creek began more than three years ago. Then, in September, 1992, Mission Viejo Materials reached an agreement with the state Department of Fish and Game to rectify the problems within a year, she said.

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Mission Viejo Materials “then proceeded to get extension and extension from Fish and Game and in fact did not live up to the terms of the agreement,” Griswold said.


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