Colonel of Wisdom

This toll road debate is starting to feel like Clue—who's going to kill the project? Was it Colonel Magness, in the media, with cold, hard facts?

Col. Thomas Magness wrote a little letter the Transportation Corridor Agencies didn't like. The letter disclosed that the TCA's preferred, certified alignment for their Foothill-South (241) toll road extension was not in fact the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA). In layman's terms, LEDPA means "that which is least idiotic." In legal terms, it means "the only option you can legally choose."

Magness felt obliged to clarify certain "misrepresentations", such as the TCA's suggestion that everyone involved had agreed that their Green Alignment was just super. In fact, Magness's agency—the Army Corps of Engineers (COE)—is solely responsible for determining the LEDPA and they haven't made a final decision yet. Naturally, this created a flurry of media attention. Why? Who cares about this issue besides me? Well, it turns out California law requires the 241 extension be built using the route that will cause less environmental devastation than all others, as determined by the COE and ONLY the COE, as Col. Magness asserts.

So what business had the TCA in certifying their so-called "Green Alignment", running through San Onofre State Beach, the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy and the Acjachemen sacred site of Panhe? None whatsoever, it would seem, if the road was not the final choice of the COE.

Col. Magness has a response to recent comments in the media discussing his letter, possible motives for its composition, and the meaning of certain statements. It is available on the COE Los Angeles website, but I leave you with a salient excerpt.

As part of the collaborative of federal, state and local agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did identify a preliminary LEDPA in 2005 based on information available to us at the time. My intent in the letter, as a neutral arbiter in the environmental review, was to make clear that our process has not run its course. There has been no final, formal decision on any of the remaining practicable alternatives. More analysis, public review and comment are needed and are ongoing.

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See the full letter below.

NR08-06 - Statement by district commander on south Orange County toll road Written by Greg Fuderer Friday, 18 April 2008

Release 08-06 US Army Corps Of Engineers April 18, 2008 Immediate

Greg Fuderer Telephone: (213) 452-3923 Email: PublicAffairs.SPL@usace.army.mil

Statement by district commander on south Orange County toll road project

I truly appreciate the interest and discussion in the media, in the pubic and among various government agencies and private interest groups regarding a letter I wrote. I believe debate over an important topic is a great way to ensure as many viable options are considered and a way to help make sure all parties have the opportunity to present their view of an issue. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dedicated to serving the public interest and to fulfilling our role in environmental stewardship.

Regarding the proposed toll road in south Orange County, the Los Angeles District’s role is to serve as an impartial agency to determine which of many proposed methods meets the project’s goals while simultaneously causing the least impact on the aquatic resources, including wetlands, as well as the surrounding environment.

That process is rarely simple and requires extensive research over many years to develop alternatives that attempt to meet both those goals. In the end, though, only one agency has the authority to determine which alternative is the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) – the Corps. That is because the LEDPA determination is specific to the Corps' Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Program. Since the location of the proposed road falls within the jurisdiction of the Corps’ Los Angeles District, I, as its commander, am responsible to make that decision.

As part of the collaborative of federal, state and local agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did identify a preliminary LEDPA in 2005 based on information available to us at the time. My intent in the letter, as a neutral arbiter in the environmental review, was to make clear that our process has not run its course. There has been no final, formal decision on any of the remaining practicable alternatives. More analysis, public review and comment are needed and are ongoing.

All parties involved in the decision process understand a great deal is at stake: for commuters, for the economy, for the environment and for recreation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is committed to a comprehensive and unbiased review of all information and points of view during the environmental review process. The citizens of California have my pledge that the decision I make will be based on the best science available and a determination to rule in the public interest. When the Final Environmental Impact Statement is complete, we look forward to presenting it to the public for comment, and will stand proudly behind our actions when we do.

Col. Thomas H. Magness, IV

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