Commerce Secretary Rules for California Beach, Against Toll Road

SAN DEIGO, California, December 18, 2008 (ENS) - Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez today upheld objections by the California Coastal Commission over the Transportation Corridor Agency's plans to build a six-lane, 16-mile highway through one of the most ecologically diverse state beaches in the California state parks system.

The proposed toll road, State Route 241 was opposed by environmentalists, who warned that it would destroy San Onofre State Beach, visited by nearly 2.5 million people every year.

In February 2008, the California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 to block the toll road from destroying San Onofre State Beach, the fifth-most visited park in California. More than 3,500 people attended the public hearing, the largest number in the history of the Commission.

The Transportation Corridor Agency appealed the Coastal Commission's decision to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has override authority.

In September, the Department of Commerce allowed a public hearing in Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego County, which more than 6,000 people attended, with hundreds of people providing testimony to save the state beach.

Joel Reynolds, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said today, "The secretary's decision confirms just how bad this project really is. Even the Bush administration, under pressure from all the lobbyists money can buy, has refused to endorse the toll road through San Onofre. In my 30 years experience, I have never seen a project more deserving of rejection."

San Onofre State Beach is inhabited by 11 threatened or endangered species and contains portions of San Mateo Creek, one of the last unspoiled watersheds in California. According to California State Parks, the toll road would have required that 60 percent of the park be closed.

Located between San Onofre State Beach and San Onofre Surf Beach is the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which provides nearly 20 percent of the power to more than 15 million people in southern California.

"The transportation agency lobbied 20 years for this toll road, spent millions of dollars on lobbyists, and were trying to shove the $1.1 billion dollars for this road onto the shoulders of taxpayers already burdened by the economy," said Reynolds. "You simply couldn't design a transportation project that does more harm to taxpayers and the environment and less good for congestion relief."

But proponents of the road were dismayed by the secretary's ruling. Jerry Amante, chairman of the Transportation Corridor Agency, said, "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."

U.S. Congressman Ken Calvert, a Republican who represents California's 44th Congressional District, said, "The Department of Commerce's suggestion that the Central Corridor - Avenida La Pata alternative is 'reasonable and available' totally disregards the adverse impacts it would have on the City of San Clemente by increasing congestion on city streets and destroying 172 homes."

Richard Dixon, president of the Southern California Association of Governments, SCAG, said, "The Commerce decision is sad news for all of Southern California. Not only is the 241 completion important to our regional transportation system, it is an integral part of our air quality plan."

"Since 1991, the project has been identified as a Transportation Control Measure, which will allow SCAG to achieve emission reductions in the region and conform to the federal Clean Air Act," Dixon said.

"If it ends up that this project is not built, Southern California could stand to lose $10 billion in federal dollars, jeopardizing local projects such as critical improvements on the SR-57 and SR-91 freeways in Orange County," he said.

President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, Robert Balgenorth, remains hopeful that the road will eventually be built. "We will be asking the incoming Obama administration to support this project, given their strong commitment to infrastructure development and jobs. With an 8.2 percent unemployment rate, California now has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Our state needs the 35,000 jobs that the 241 project would generate."

But Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "It is now time for the Transportation Corridor Agency to stop spending scarce resources on lobbyists and lawyers, and begin to focus on widening of Interstate 5 as the best answer to traffic congestion in the region."

{Photo: San Onofre State Beach with the San Onofre nuclear power plant in the distance (Photo by The City Project)}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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