Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Will Congress Stop the Speeding to Trestles?

Oh, my! Will Washington now enter the fracas that is the proposed Foothill-South 241 Extension to Trestles? Look at what I just saw in today's OC Register:

A proposed toll road through parkland that has become Orange County's most explosive environmental controversy could be jeopardized – and perhaps even killed – if a small amendment added to a defense authorization bill is approved today.

The Foothill South toll road, which would bisect San Onofre State Beach park and cut through highly sensitive natural habitat, has pitted environmental activists against residents who say the road is vital to prevent south county gridlock as populations rise.

Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, who is sponsoring the amendment, believes she has the votes to repeal a 1999 law that authorized the military to grant the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency the right to build a road on 340 acres of parkland.

Authorization from the Navy is necessary before the toll road, which must clear a variety of other regulatory hurdles, can be built.

So can this mean the end of Foothill-South? Follow me after the flip for more...

The House Armed Services Committee will likely be voting on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, and Rep. Susan Davis is hoping that her amendment is included in that bill.

"She's heard from constituents in the district who enjoy the parks and the beaches and have a lot of concerns about the process,'' said Aaron Hunter, Davis' press secretary.

In essence, the amendments would revoke congressional authorization for the military to convey building rights to the toll road agency. It would also erase previous legislation intended to insulate the toll road from state and federal laws that could prevent its construction.

Activists who were aware of Davis' effort Tuesday said they did not believe her amendment would kill the toll road project but would simply create a "level playing field," forcing the agency to obey the same laws as other road builders.

"This abuse must stop," said James Birkelund, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica. "The agency should comply with federal and state laws."

Davis' staff said her action wouldn't prohibit construction of the road. It would "just have to follow the same rules and regulations that all other state projects do,'' Hunter said.

But apparently, TCA is not happy with this. They are convinced that Davis is conspiring to kill the toll road. And they are livid!

"It takes away from the Navy the ability to grant us an easement," said Rob Thornton, an attorney who often represents the tollway agency. "I think it would kill the road in this location. The state obtained the lease with the understanding that the Navy reserved the ability to approve the construction of roads." [...]

"What she's trying to do is kill the road,'' said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona. "The millions and millions of dollars that have been spent on environmental studies to advance this would be for naught."

Well, why did all that money have to be spent in the first place? All Calvert had to do was have one of his staffers read the Coastal Act. It would have been much cheaper, and they could have determined immediately that the proposed path of Foothill-South violates California state law.

And again, isn't it obvious that the proposed path of this toll road would drive us to complete environmental catastrophe? It would alter the sediment flow of San Mateo Creek, thereby destroying the world-famous waves of Trestles. It would destroy the habitat of at least seven endangered species, including the California gnatcatcher, the Southern California Steelhead Trout, and the Arroyo toad. Their humble abode would be gone if TCA were to have its way. And oh yes, wouldn't this violate a certain federal Endangered Species Act?

All Susan Davis wants to do is ensure that TCA is following the letter of the law when it comes to this Foothill-South 241 Extension. Why would they feel so threatened by this? Oh yeah, that's why.

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