The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted legal findings Monday to support its unanimous June 2013 rejection of a water quality permit for the 241 Foothill/Eastern toll road Tesoro Extension project.
The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) has said the extension is a singular project and not the first five-mile leg of a 16-mile road to connect the 241 with the 5 freeway in San Diego County. Foes accuse the TCA of trying to build the full extension one leg at a time.
That would be due to TCA's original proposal to fully extend the 241 through San Onofre State Park, San Onofre State Beach and the protected natural lands in the Donna O'Neill Conservancy having been flatly rejected by the federal government, civic leaders, environmentalists and 78 percent of Orange County voters.
On Monday, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board for the third time rejected a 241 extension. The board's grounds for its 6-0 rejection of a requested Waste Discharge Requirements permit are the TCA failed to disclose the full environmental impacts of the entire road project. (The California Parks Department has indicated one major environmental impact: the full extension would prompt the agency to abandon 60 percent of San Onofre State Park due to toll road damage.)
"The board today voted to protect our water quality, our parks and beaches from this destructive toll road project," says Elizabeth Goldstein in a Save San Onofre Coalition statement issued Monday. "We commend the board for upholding California's water quality laws and protecting the public interest.
"The board responded to the overwhelming evidence that the Tesoro Extension is no more than an attempt to commence construction of a larger, environmentally destructive [project] that has been rejected by the board and every other agency that has considered the project to-date. This project needs to be rethought from the ground up, or abandoned, rather than twisted to accommodate every rejection the TCA experiences."
The coalition accuses the TCA of having spent more than $300 million in public funding for the project.
The TCA submitted a letter to the regional board before the meeting that argued extending the 241 from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to Cow Camp Road in San Juan Capistrano is desperately needed to alleviate traffic congestion.
"The regional board's concerns focus primarily on former alignments that are not part of TCA's existing application," according to the TCA, which claims "the Tesoro Extension can function to provide traffic relief independent of any future extensions; therefore, it has independent utility and should be judged on its own merits."
The TCA accused the regional board of failing to provide detailed findings to support the rejection of waste water discharge permits, refusing to take into consideration the "minimal" environmental impact of the project and "setting a dangerous precedent that could prevent future infrastructure projects throughout the state from proceeding in stand-alone phases."
Finally, the TCA said it "acknowledges and respects the authority of the regional board to restrict water discharges of any future extension of the 241," so "there is no reason for the regional board to deny the Tesoro Extension permit."
Maybe the fourth time will be the charm for the TCA.