Obama's EPA shows Backbone in Newhall Ranch fight
2/3/2011--A project to build a community of 60,000 residents along the last wild river in Southern California has sparked a feud between two federal agencies over plans to alter areas crucial to California condors and convert nearly 20 miles of waterways into concrete drains and levees.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency questions whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is set to permit the Newhall Ranch construction 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, has adequately considered the threat of flooding caused by building in the flood plain of the Santa Clara River or its effects on water quality, tributary streams, Native American burial sites and an array of rare and endangered plants and animals.
The corps is expected to issue a Clean Water Act permit this month authorizing the developer, Newhall Land, to use 20 million cubic yards of excavated soil to fill in wetlands in areas to be developed over the next 20 to 30 years on the 12,000-acre ranch.
Of particular concern to the EPA are plans to fill in much of Potrero Canyon, which includes a rare alkali wetlands and roosting and foraging grounds for endangered California condors. Developers would also convert nearly 20 miles of tributaries and riverbank into storm drains and levees, which the EPA contends could increase flood risks to ranch residents and downstream communities, including Ventura and Santa Paula.
"We are not trying to stop this project, just modify it," said Eric Raffini, an environmental scientist with the EPA's wetlands regulatory program in Southern California. "We do not believe it is appropriate to put people in that flood plain, and we are proposing that they reduce the project footprint by about 80 acres in Potrero Canyon."
"We are prepared to elevate this case, if necessary, to our headquarters in Washington for review, which could result in a veto of the project," Raffini said.
Under the Obama administration, the EPA has overruled the Corps of Engineers before, notably in the EPA's decision to require that the Los Angeles River be managed as a navigable waterway from its source in the west San Fernando Valley to its mouth in Long Beach. That subjects the river and its tributaries to the tight strictures of the Clean Water Act...
...The corps is studying alternative proposals, including one that "would avoid all of Potrero Canyon," Allen said. But he noted that the corps has jurisdiction over only seven of the 109 acres of flood plain in dispute. "So the developer could still develop a lot of it without our permit," he said.
"Do I believe these issues will reach the point where the project will be stopped?" asked Emile Haddad, president and chief executive of Five Point Communities Management, a real estate management company owned by Haddad and Lennar Corp., one of the nation's largest homebuilders. "No. I want to find a solution. I'm a person who can sit down and make a deal. If the EPA's biggest problem is 80 acres and about 500 homes, we'll get rid of them. Done."
It may take more than that to satisfy the EPA...