Dear Register Reader

On Jan. 4, the Register published a letter from Laer Pearce of Coto de Caza regarding an article about Stephanie Holcomb, a prominent member of a group of Orange residents who succeeded in blocking a Fieldstone Homes development in their city. Pearce criticized Holcomb's group, reasoning that "if we can't reuse sites like a sand and gravel operation for homes, where are we going to house families?"

Laer (the Register doesn't reveal that he made his bank as a lobbyist for Orange County homebuilders) is like so many who have been mesmerized by the siren call of sand and gravel. But abandoned mines aren't the panacea most people would believe. Take the sand and gravel pit in question, the site of the former Sully-Miller mine, established in the 1940s in the original path of Santiago Creek. Over the decades, waste from mining was deposited in huge ponds, eventually altering the course of the creek. When mining ceased in 1995, as the Weekly reported last year, city officials failed to require the mining company to restore the land in compliance with state law. Oops!

Now, the creek is slowly, ineluctably returning to its old channel. At least four times this century, storms have transformed normally benign Santiago Creek into a raging torrent, most notably in 1969—just 35 years ago, if you're counting—when heavy rains swelled the creek's width to 125 feet. Fieldstone wants to build 183 homes on the 107-acre site that sits squarely in this flood zone created only by two earthen dams. Should either dam fail (and one is built on a major earthquake fault), the resulting wall of water would likely obliterate everything in its path, eventually drowning the site in 15 feet of water, if you're counting.

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