Army Tackles Toll Road

When supporters of the 241 (Foothill-South) toll road and its builder, the Transportation Corridor Agencies, hear opponents claim they'll stop the project, the reply is usually along the lines of, "You and what army?"

The United States Army, assholes. That's right, the Army is finally providing the necessary firepower to blow the TCA's lies clean out of the sky.

Colonel Thomas H. Magness is District Commander of the Los Angeles District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE). You may remember their fine work on the levees in New Orleans. Colonel Magness sent a letter (Download file) dated April 7 to Thomas Street, staff attorney for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, "to clarify and augment the project's administrative record before you...." The project in question is the Foothill-South extension.

"My staff consistently endeavors to render fair and balanced decisions within the bounds of our implementing regulations and based on the best available information. For this reason, I am compelled to highlight a few areas of the public record where I have found inaccurate statements as well as inferences that misrepresent the Corps preliminary determinations within the context of our CWA and NEPA statutory responsibilities."

Would you believe it gets better?

In February the California Coastal Commission vetoed the TCA's plan to pave through the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy, inland San Onofre State Beach and the Juaneno village of Panhe. The TCA appealed the 8-2 decision to the Secretary of Commerce, who can reverse the decision (sending the project right back to the CCC). The COE is part of the so-called Collaborative of agencies which claims to have studied this project for decades, the same group the TCA repeatedly cites as having backed up all their information. Not so any longer.

First Col. Magness took issue with the notion that the TCA's certified alternative, or route for the road, is the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA), a requirement of the Coastal Zone Management Act. The project's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) states, "the Collaborative had essentially agreed that ... the CC, CC-ALPV, and A7C-ALPV alternatives are not practicable because they would result in severe community disruption." That final set of acronyms stands for the Central Corridor Alternative, and two Avenida La Pata-based derivatives. According to Col. Magness,

"During the Corps' 2004-05 deliberation of the abovementioned alternatives, at no time did we determine the Central Corridor Alternative, Central Corridor-Avenida La Pata or Alignment 7 Corridor-Avenida La Pata Alternative to be not practicable... The statement in the applicant's final SEIR that these alternatives "...[w]ere determined [by the Collaborative] to be not practicable is incorrect and thus misrepresents the Corps' position."

Next, Col. Magness put the TCA's appeal itself in his sights. It seems that page 6, paragraph 9 of the brief claims that "[t]he Collaborative unanimously determined the Green Alignment of the FTC-S to be the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative." This didn't cut the mustard with the colonel.

"As I explained above, the Corps provided its 'preliminary' LEDPA determination, but did not issue any final LEPDA decision. The omission of the word 'preliminary' in the Appellant's brief is not only misleading, but creates potential misconceptions about the Corps' ability to render impartial decisions that are neither arbitrary nor capricious... the LEDPA decision (preliminary and final) rests solely with the Corps; it is not a decision that is subject to consensus or unanimity among other federal and state agencies, as implied by the Appellant's chosen wording."

With that opponent hastily dispatched, Col. Magness moved on to eliminate the claim that the Final SEIR was subject to "unanimous recommendations" including the COE. Page 7, paragraph 10 of the Report claims the TCA Board of Directors certified the Final SEIR "[w]ith the unanimous recommendations of the Collaborative." Col. Magness says not so.

"Aside from our official public comments issued to FHWA on the 2004 Draft EIS/SEIR, we offered no recommendations on the CEQA document beyond our November 1, 2005 letter pertaining to the 'preliminary' LEDPA.... To be forthright and accurate, the applicant (TCA) unilaterally decided to split the historically combined NEPA/CEQA document and allow the Final SEIR to proceed in advance of the Final EIS. My staff had no prior knowledge or input on this action taken by the TCA Board of Directors nor were they provided the opportunity to review the final CEQA document in advance of its certification."

Not done yet. I'm just going to throw in the entirety of the next paragraph; I love the poetic brevity of solid military prose.

"Page 17 of the Appellant's principal brief reiterates the following, verbatim: 'Flying in the face of thirty years of planning studies by all levels of government and the conclusion reached after six years of study by the federal agencies with jurisdiction over resources affected by this Project, the Commission claims there are other reasonable alternatives. The selection of the FTC-S was the outcome of the Collaborative's six year process of planning and analysis to ensure the selection of the LEDPA, a test equivalent to the California Coastal Act the chosen alternative be the "least environmentally damaging feasible alternative' [emphasis added]. These assertions are false. I have not reached a conclusion with respect to the SOCTIIP [the regional transit plan which includes the 241], not reached a final LEDPA determination, nor have I yet made a public interest determination. Furthermore, my agency has not concurred with TCA that there are no other reasonable or feasible alternatives other than the applicant's preferred alternative. Again, I submit for the administrative record that based on the 2004 Draft EIS/SEIR the Corps holds the opinion there are other practicable alternatives available to TCA that would achieve the overall project purpose."

(Digg this story HERE)

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