Environmentalists Challenge|Orange County Toll Road

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – A dozen environmental groups have sued the federal government to try to stop the Foothill Transportation Corridor. The groups say the 16-mile toll road in Orange County will ecologically devastate one of Southern California’s last undeveloped areas, including San Onofre State Beach.

     The groups claim the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior trampled the Endangered Species Act and other laws and ignored scientific studies to declare that their “speculative and ill-defined mitigation plans” will protect the threatened and endangered species there.
     “The toll road will cross San Juan and San Mateo Creeks, both of which are federal designated critical habitat for the critically endangered southern steelhead trout,” the federal complaint states. “Nonetheless, NMFS (the defendant National Marine Fisheries Service) refused to even prepare a comprehensive Biological Opinion concerning the impacts of the toll road on the southern steelhead, instead concluding that the toll road is not likely to adversely affect the species.”
     But the defendant Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the toll road “(a) will destroy and fragment high quality habitat for one of the handful of remaining populations of the critically imperiled Pacific pocket mouse; (b) will disturb almost 50% of the aquatic habitat for the endangered tidewater goby in San Mateo and San Onofre Creeks; (c) will destroy more than a hundred acres of upland habitat for two populations of the endangered arroyo toad; (d) will eliminate more than 300 acres of the coastal sage scrub habitat occupied by up to 50 breeding pairs of the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher; (e) will destroy more than 22 acres of the remaining habitat for the endangered least Bell’s vireo; and (f) will wipe out at least one of the limited number of remaining populations of the threatened thread-leaved brodiaea [lily].”
     Nor are these the only ecological disasters that will ensue, the complaint states.
     “More than 95% of the historic riparian habitat in the region has already been lost,” the complaint states. Ironically, many of the threatened species have been protected by the presence of the enormous U.S. Marine base at Camp Pendleton, and the large open spaces needed for its firing ranges.
     Plaintiffs, led by the Save San Onofre Coalition, want the defendants’ arbitrary and capricious biological opinion statements set aside, and the project enjoined unless and until it complies with environmental laws. Lead counsel for plaintiffs is Damon Nagami with the Natural Resources Defense Council of Santa Monica.

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