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Beleaguered Toll Road Agency Approves Illegal Highway Project With Virtually No Public Notice

Damon Nagami

Posted April 19, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Yesterday, at the end of a hastily arranged “special meeting” that afforded virtually no prior notice or opportunity for the public to comment, the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) reportedly approved its plans to build the first five miles of the controversial Foothill-South Toll Road. I've blogged about this issue many times (for example, here).

By noticing and holding this critical meeting within the space of just a couple of days, TCA went back on numerous promises it made to our coalition and to the public that it would give prior notice and opportunities to comment on this project. Here are just a few examples:

  • As recently as late February, TCA’s Web site stated that “[a]fter the traffic and environmental analyses [for the project] are completed, there will be a public review period for the SEIR addendum [environmental document] and public workshops.”
  • TCA’s staff assured us in emails that “[y]ou will have plenty of notice before any decisions are made.”
  • As my colleague Mark Rauscher with the Surfrider Foundation reports, TCA's environmental director explained to community members last summer how there would be a lengthy process allowing the public to weigh in.

It is outrageous and unacceptable that a public agency would act in this manner. In TCA’s case, however, it is not surprising: This approval is an act of sheer desperation. TCA’s road project was rejected by the Coastal Commission and the Bush Administration. The agency is under increasing scrutiny for its shaky financial situation – it’s being investigated by the state treasurer and even a conservative think tank has raised serious questions.

One would think TCA would be on its best behavior at this point, but instead the agency decided to approve its project with almost no notice to the public. This is despite the huge level of public interest in the issue – thousands turned out to Coastal Commission and Department of Commerce hearings in 2008, and earlier this year more than 3,000 people submitted comments to the San Diego Regional Water Board opposing a permit for the project. Our coalition of groups that represent millions of members and activists has been working on these issues for years, and we didn’t even know about this meeting until late yesterday.

This is an outrageous way for a public agency to behave. We strongly urge TCA to rescind yesterday’s decision approving its environmental documents and conceptual design for the road project and open a public review period to allow the affected communities and other stakeholders to weigh in, as TCA had promised to do.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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