Save San Onofre Coalition Files 2 Lawsuits to Stop Foothill/Eastern (241) Toll Road Extension

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The Save San Onofre coalition filed two lawsuits in San Diego Superior Court Wednesday aimed at stopping what it considers the first five-mile segment of a 16-mile toll road that would ultimately cut through a south Orange County park and up against a northern San Diego County beach.

The complaints allege the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA)'s approval of the "flawed" 241 South Toll Road project fails to account for a range of ecological and economic impacts and violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for not meeting basic environmental review.

"This illegal segment is a desperate attempt to perpetuate a project which is so contrary to the public interest," says Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League, in a Save San Onofre coalition statement. "TCA's existing toll roads are a financial disaster, and we shouldn't throw good money after bad."

Environmentalists have already worn out a path to court to fight the entire 16-mile project on similar grounds. Coalition members initially filed a CEQA lawsuit against TCA in 2006 for alleged violations regarding the Environmental Impact Report for the Foothill-South Toll Road.

Before that case was resolved, the California Coastal Commission in February 2008 rejected the 241 South Toll Road, and the Bush Administration's Commerce Department upheld the Coastal Commission's decision later that year. The state and federal entities had received emotional testimony from toll road backers and opponents before announcing their decisions.

"The turnout to the hearings in 2008 was historic," Damon Nagami, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney, notes in the statement. "The idea of paving over this coastal open land really hit home for a lot of people and they showed up to defend it. Now the threat is back and we are prepared to defend it again. TCA can't just bulldoze over the whole public approval process."

Following rejection of the 16-mile route, the TCA has developed a new strategy that begins by building the first 5.5-mile segment of the 241 south to Cow Camp Road (known as the "Tesoro Extension"). Lori Olin, the TCA spokeswoman, has said there are no plans on the table to extend the toll road beyond that.

But one lawsuit that seeks to re-open the 2008 lawsuit alleges this is illegal "piecemealing" and that the Tesoro Extension was approved "hastily" on April 18. That view is based on a regional water quality control board meeting in Costa Mesa that coalition members complained they did not receive proper notice of and which went back on TCA promises to include the public in such hearings.

As we reported at the time, Olin countered that the regional board hearing was noticed properly, concerned a routine procedure on the regional board's calendar, did not represent final approval of the Tesoro Extension and was but one of many meetings to come where the public can voice support or opposition to the project.

"Conceptual Plan" for Foothill-South (241) Toll Road Extension Draws Scorn and Confusion

Wherever we are in the approval process, the coalition sees the extension as an end-around a matter that was settled in 2008. Olin told the Associated Press Wednesday the agency expected the lawsuit but that she had not seen it and couldn't comment specifically on its claims. She did note the 5.5-mile extension does not cross the San Onofre beach area the coalition vows to protect.

And she stuck to this TCA line from back in the days her agency sought the 16-mile link to the 241: the project is necessary to alleviate traffic brought by new development and a choked 5 freeway.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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