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Breaking News: Federal goverment rejects Foothill Toll Road, Saves Trestles for now

Breaking News: Federal
By Andrew Horan
December 18, 2008 9:38 AM

Updated at 2:55 with TCA's response. Updated at 1:50 with reaction from Don Brown at Sole Technology and a link to a bloomberg.com story about the impact of the credit crisis on the proposed road extension.Updated at 10:48 with Surfrider's reaction and an initial response from the road builder. Updated at 10:11 with reaction from Bob Mignogna.

The U.S. Commerce Dept. this morning sided with the action sports industry and surfers by issuing a ruling that rejects completion of the Foothill (241) Toll Road in south Orange and northern San Diego counties in California.

The toll road builder can still file a lawsuit challenging the rulings and seeking to build the road, but as the Commerce Dept.'s ruling makes clear, the government recommends that road builders find an alternate route for the road. This afternoon, agency officials said they are examining their legal options and will continue to pursue their preferred alternative for extending the toll road. See more below, under the TCA heading.

Here's a link to what NOAA calls "the document detailing the decision." Click on the "decision" link on the left margin when you go to that page.

Also, here's a link to the Commerce Dept.'s records on the case.

And below, you'll see the press release from the Commerce Dept.'s National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Below the press release, you'll find comment from industry vet Bob Mignogna, who worked with Surfrider to rally the industry to the cause. We'll post more reaction as it develops.

NOAA statement

"The Department of Commerce today upheld the California Coastal Commission's objection to a proposal to construct a 16-mile toll road connecting California state Route 241 to Interstate 5 in southern Orange and northern San Diego counties.

"The commission objected to the proposed project under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) on the grounds that the toll road was not consistent with the state's coastal zone management program. Under the CZMA, federal agencies may not issue any permits required for a project if a state has objected, unless the Department of Commerce, on appeal, overrides the objection.

"The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) appealed the commission's objection to the Department of Commerce in February, triggering an administrative review process that involved written briefs and arguments by the parties, input from interested federal agencies, tens of thousands of written comments from the public, and a 10-hour public hearing in San Diego County.

"Under the CZMA, the department may override an objection only if no reasonable alternative to the project exists and the proposal is consistent with the objectives of the CZMA, or if the project is necessary in the interest of national security. The department determined that there is at least one reasonable alternative to the project. The department also found that the project is not necessary in the interest of national security.

"TCA may pursue another route for its proposed toll road that the commission determines is consistent with California's coastal zone management program, and TCA is not limited to the alternative proposal described in the department's decision.

"Since the enactment of the CZMA in 1972, the department has acted on 43 appeals, upholding 29 objections by state agencies and overriding 14.

"NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources."

Reaction from Bob Mignogna

"I received a call from Jim Moriarity at Surfrider with the incredible news that the U.S. Secretary of Commerce denied TCA's appeal of the Coastal Commissions rejection of the 241 Toll Road extension through San Mateo Creek, which would have destroyed San Onofre State Park and potentially done irreparable harm to the famed Trestles surf breaks.

Bob MignognaMignogna

"Most of us in the battle were very skeptical regarding the decision-making process at the Commerce Department, and especially with a Bush appointee at the helm. There are big developer dollars behind the road extension project and the prevailing concern was that the Coastal Commission would be overturned. The fact that WE WON in spite of the financial muscle behind the toll road is a statement about how the people must fight the battle if they ever expect to win. We (the people) can't just sit on the sidelines and complain - we've got to get our hands dirty and take action.

"From my perspective, this was one of the first major political efforts supported by the surf industry as a whole. It proves that our industry can be taken seriously by mainstream political America. To me, this clearly shows that the surf industry has grown into being an economic, and thus, political force to be considered.

"Everyone who helped on this campaign deserves a pat on the back and a big round of applause, especially the thousands of surf industry employees who wrote letters and emails, posted comments online, put signs out front of their home and office, wore t-shirts in support of Save Trestles, attended meetings, etc.

"We should acknowledge the organizations behind this effort, including Surfrider Foundation, Friends of the Foothills (division of Sierra Club), the Natural Resources Defense Council, California State Parks Foundation. They did all the behind the scene intelligence work, raising the funds to staff this effort and launch a number of lawsuits. Remember them when you give credit for this incredible victory."

Surfrider

toll road hearing"The Surfrider Foundation is elated that Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez chose to uphold California Coastal Commission's ruling against the planned extension to the SR-241 toll toad. This decision is a significant milestone in our efforts to protect San Onofre State Beach Park and the surrounding environment; and proves decision-makers listen when thousands of people speak out against ill-conceived projects.

"We now call upon the Transportation Corridor Agencies and other state and local officials to consider other, more effective and less harmful traffic solutions.

"Thanks for your support!!"
- Matt McClain, Surfrider's director of marketing and communications

TCA

Updated at 2:58.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies will review legal action and continue to fight for a way to build its preferred route for the extension of the toll-road, officials said this afternoon.

Here's a press release from the afternoon news conference:

The failure of the Department of Commerce to approve the completion of SR 241 is a blow to millions of Southern California commuters, the quality of life in the region and the local economy, according to the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) and its supporters throughout Southern California.

"This decision is a terrible one for millions of Southern Californians and rewards the anti-road and anti-growth obstructionists who have engaged in an orchestrated campaign of misrepresentation and distortion against the road's completion," said Jerry Amante, chairman of TCA. "It is also a major surprise since the facts clearly indicate that there are so many benefits to completing the 241. The strong majority of residents of Southern California, elected officials, labor unions and business organizations all along the route who support the 241 were confident Commerce would reject the bad data and analysis unsupported by facts relied upon by the California Coastal Commission in its decision. Instead, this decision has caused more delays in building this critically needed road for congestion relief and the free flow of California's commercial lifeblood."

The 16-mile final leg of SR 241 will run from Oso Parkway in South Orange County and connect with Interstate 5 about a half mile from the beach at Basilone Road on Camp Pendleton.

"We will take a hard look at the legal points in the decision and plan a strategy to overcome the Secretary's inexplicably anti-commerce, anti-neighborhood decision and continue to push forward on a solution that will provide significant traffic relief while protecting Southern California's economy," Amante said.

The TCA sought approval to complete the road from the U.S. Department of Commerce, following a decision by the California Coastal Commission to deny the TCA's coastal consistency certification. The Coastal Commission decision was based on analyses unsupported by facts, which was repudiated by outside experts and state and federal agencies.

At a public hearing in Del Mar on Sept. 22, supporters and engineering, environmental, and other experts presented a Commerce hearing officer with a steady stream of facts and overwhelming evidence that the proposed route for the completion of the 241 is safe for the environment, watershed, wildlife, campers, surfing and the beaches, countering the emotional appeals and propaganda from anti-road factions.

"The murky myths raised by road opponents were countered with clear facts, which we had assumed would prevail to the ultimate benefit of the millions of Southern Californians who face growing gridlock in the region," said Amante. "We provided abundant evidence that completing the 241 is critical to national interest benefits by relieving Interstate 5 - one of the most important corridors in the nation, moving goods and people and linking the second and third most populous counties in the state."

Since the Coastal Commission's denial of TCA's request for a Coastal Consistency Certification, the Agency has obtained major approvals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game certifying that the project complies with state and federal wildlife laws. Three nationally-recognized, independent peer reviewers analyzed the project opponents' claims that the project would impact surfing and water quality and found the claims to be without merit. Most recently an independent review of the opponents' proposal to widen I-5 - requested by the Environmental Protection Agency -- determined that it was not a feasible alternative.

The timing is also a terrible blow to the Southern California economy, according to Amante. "Our region was set to benefit from the 35,000 jobs that would be created to design, engineer and build the 241, then maintain it going forward," said Amante. "The regional economy needs the 241. It is a perfect example of what President-elect Obama means when he speaks about the importance of supporting public works and infrastructure programs. The 241 wouldn't require the huge taxpayer costs associated with traditional road construction by local, state or federal agencies. The 241 Toll Road completion will be good for the long-term economic health of the region, alleviating traffic, facilitating goods movement and boosting our local economy by providing jobs."

ABOUT COMPLETION OF THE 241

Extending the 241 will relieve traffic in South Orange County by providing an alternative route to Interstate 5 for the hundreds of thousands of motorists a day who travel between San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles Counties. With construction of the toll road, two miles of Interstate 5 will be retrofitted to collect and treat runoff, improving water quality in the Trestles area. Without the toll road, travel from the San Diego/Orange County border to Mission Viejo will take one hour in 2025. With the toll road constructed, the same drive on Interstate 5 will take 25 minutes and it will take 16 minutes on the toll road.

The extension of the 241 is part of a comprehensive regional transportation plan put in place in 1981 to meet the needs of 21 million Southern California residents and those who travel the region for pleasure or commerce. It will save time and money in commuting, plus reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Public opinion polls of Orange County and San Diego residents have shown overwhelming support for the extension of the toll road by 2-1 margins.

Don Brown, Sole Technology

"Democracy is not dead. The vote today opposing the Foothill (241) Toll Road and saving Trestles shows what the power of passionate people that believe in standing up for their environment can do.

Don BrownDon Brown

"It was a long battle but well worth the fight as our industry proved that passion and perseverance is stronger than dollars and cents.

"The action sports community influence has demonstrated we are force to be reckoned with when it infringes on the sports that make our industry flourish.

"Congratulations to the global surf community, there's plenty more battles to be won and together we can take them on."

Bloomberg on TCA bonds

Bloomberg.com posted a story today by reporter Peter Brennan that suggests the ongoing credit crunch might prohibit the TCA from being able to finance construction of the tollroad extension. The full story is here.

 

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