24 February 2006

Yet Another Example of So Cal's Declining Quality of Life

Surfrider and other environmental groups remain optimistic that battle is not over yet

Previous coverage: Will Lowers get paved by new 241 extension toll road?

This just in from our buddies at the Surfrider Foundation:

Well, it's official. The Transportation Corridor Agency has approved a plan to construct the extension of the 241 Foothill South Toll Road along and through the San Mateo Creek watershed, through the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy and San Onofre State Beach Park's San Mateo campground, and link up with Interstate 5 near Basilone Road.

Yesterday's vote by the TCA was by no means unexpected. The Surfrider Foundation and its coalition partners were neither shocked nor disappointed in the decision. What was a surprise was that the vote was not unanimous. In fact, three of the TCA's own board members voted against the project -- noting that by selecting an alignment that compromised a state park, the project would be setting a potentially disastrous precedent.

As many of you know, during the days leading up Thursday's vote, the Surfrider Foundation led a charge to implore Governor Schwarzenegger to join Attorney Bill Lockyer, State Senators Don Perata, Sheila Kuehl, Joe Simitain, Joe Dunn and Alan Lowenthal, and the California Parks and Recreation Department in supporting California's State Parks by opposing the project's proposed alignment. As of Thursday morning the, Surfrider Foundation's "Save Trestles" Action Alert had netted over 8,500 messages sent to the Governor and his staff.

Through his Secretary of Resources and Secretary of Business Transportation and Housing Sunne McPeak, the Governor's office issued the following comments immediately prior to the TVA's vote:

"This is a complex issue involving a State Park with an expiring lease on Federal military land with the decision-making authority over this proposed road resting in the hands of local officials represented by the Transportation Corridor Authority (TCA)."

"Administration officials are very disappointed that the TCA was unable to find an alternative alignment acceptable to the military. We understand the desperate need to reduce traffic congestion in this area, but are equally concerned about losing valuable state park land that is beloved by so many California residents."

"Following TCA's vote, federal and state law will require the TCA to complete additional filings and a Federal environmental impact statement. The Resources and Business, Transportation and Housing Agencies will continue to work with the military, TCA, local officials and stakeholders to mitigate any impacts on San Onofre State Park should the project go forward as proposed, and to explore all viable alternatives should there be an opportunity to reconsider the alignment."

While not the strong condemnation we had hoped for, the Governor's comments do signal reservations about the projects alignment within the highest level of State Government. They also leave the door open for the Surfrider Foundation and its coalition partners to aggressively move forward with the next phase of the campaign.

The coalition partners will be meeting over the next several days to solidify "next step" strategies and responsibilities -- the first of which will likely be the filing of legal action against the TCA on grounds that the projects Environmental Impact Report contains significant omissions and errors. This effort may also be supported by separate litigation, should the State Attorney General Bill Lockyer decide to file suit on behalf of the State Parks and Recreation Department as well.

In addition to legal action, the TCA also faces a series of hurdles as they begin efforts to secure the necessary approvals and permits for the project. Before construction can begin, the agency must gain approval from the Federal Highway Administration and permits from the following agencies: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Game, Regional Water Quality Control Board and Coastal Commission. The Surfrider Foundation will be working to rally public support to encourage each of these agencies to deny permits for the project.

"This fight is far from over," said Jim Moriarty, Surfrider Foundation's Executive Director. "Rather this is the point in the campaign where Surfrider Foundation and its supporters can play the most pivotal role in stopping this project."

The Surfrider Foundation is calling upon all coastal supporters to stay tuned for specific requests by going to the www.savetrestles.org website and click the "Take Action" section of the website, where we will be posting information on upcoming permit hearings (which we are encouraging everyone to attend and make comments), as well as continued information on how and where to submit comments to Governor Schwarzenegger and other elected and appointed officials.




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