Here is great news for Surfrider Foundation members to wake up to on International Surfing Day: the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board on Wednesday denied the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) the necessary permit to build the first segment of the 241 toll road extension.
Activists from Surfrider and other groups fearful about the final stretch of what they expect would be a new 20-mile route spoiling San Onofre State Park and Trestles beach filled two hearings to oppose the TCA's new piecemeal strategy, as they did when the toll road builders unsuccessfully tried to win approval of the whole shebang in 2008.
The TCA has denied its "Tesoro Extension" is phase one of the entire route unveiled (and shot down) previously.
The process of building the five-mile route before the Regional Water Quality Control Board required the TCA to receive a waste-water discharge permit. Members of Surfrider, the Natural Resources Defense Council, California State Parks Foundation, Endangered Habitats League, Orange County Coastkeeper, Sierra Club, Audobon Society, WildCoast and the California Coastal Protection Network had accused the TCA of trying to slip the 5-mile 241 extension with little public notice and of illegally "segmenting" the preferred 20-mile route.
The TCA vehemently denies both, claiming it is only trying to provide critical jobs and traffic relief with this single Tesoro Extension.
Water board member Sharon Kalemkiarian did not see it that way, saying, "I do not believe that the project is Tesoro, I believe that the project is the entire toll road."
"I think the project here is pretty clear," observed Kalemkiarian's colleague Henry Abarbanel. "It's the project that was presented in 2008 and rejected by the people of California and the United States."
They joined board chairman Tomas Morales in denying the permit. Eric Anderson and vice chairman Gary Strawn voted in favor, although the latter did not sound as if he really wanted to. "I don't like this project," he said. "I don't like the toll road through the hills; I don't like what it does to endangered species. ... But looking at the project we were presented, I reluctantly think I need to vote in favor."
Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, the San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation's California policy manager, was "elated that the board soundly rejected the TCA's application--they clearly understood the severe the implications of building the first 5 miles of the road. It is reassuring that this water board is living up to their mission statement of implementing plans that will best protect the region's waterways."
Just as they did when the 20-mile version was before the California Coastal Commission and fact-finders from a division of the Bush Administration's Commerce Department, which would both go on to reject the TCA plan in '08, scores of people spoke out in a standing room only board meeting room Wednesday.
Environmental activists (and their paid lawyers) contend segmenting is illegal under state and federal law.
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"This section of the road would have set the stage to reinvigorate their push to extend all the way to Trestles and San Onofre State Beach," Mark Rauscher, Surfrider Foundation's coastal preservation manager, says in a statement. "Hopefully the TCA will finally get the picture that their plans are neither appropriate for our coastal watersheds nor in the interests of the region or state."
Lisa Telles, the TCA spokeswoman, licked the agencies' wounds when speaking with the San Diego Union-Tribune, saying, "We expected to get the permit approved. We were confident that the project was comprehensive and addressed all the water quality issues."
But the stars just aren't aligning for the TCA as California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed suit last month to block the toll road, agreeing illegal segmenting is afoot and calling the Tesoro Extension a "proverbial 'road to nowhere.'"