Lawsuit Deals Big Setback to County's Big Dig

On February 14, 2017, the Honorable James C. Chalfant issued a tentative ruling in Arroyo Seco Foundation & Pasadena Audubon Society v. County of Los Angeles (LASC Case No. BS152771) that found that the environmental impact report for the Devil's Gate Sediment Removal Project was critically flawed, striking down the project.

Attorneys for the Plaintiffs and Petitioners Arroyo Seco Foundation and Pasadena Audubon Society Mitchell Tsai and Christina Caro stated that the tentative ruling recognizes that the Flood Control District failed to adequately ensure that the project's significant impacts on sensitive habitat and air quality would be adequately mitigated and gives the County a great opportunity to consider alternatives to the Project.

The judge has tentatively agreed with ASF and Pasadena Audubon that the County Flood Control District's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is deficient on several critical grounds, such as its failure to specify enforceable air quality requirements for the project and failure to provide an adequate mitigation program to address the project's significant impacts on rare and sensitive riparian lands resulting from the project's proposed destruction of 51 acres of prime stream-zone habitat.

The judge ordered supplemental briefing and a further hearing on March 23 to consider the issue of whether the EIR adequately analyzed the cumulative environmental impacts of the project in conjunction with the Eaton Canyon Pipeline and other projects in the region, as well as the scope of remedies required to vacate the existing project approvals and revise the EIR. It is likely that a revised EIR will have to be recirculated to the public and then considered again for approval by the County Board of Supervisors.

The air quality issue resulted from unenforceable language in the EIR about the County's commitment to meet air quality standards for on-road diesel truck emissions adopted by the EPA in 2007. The judge agreed that the EIR failed to specify that the Flood Control District would only use trucks that comply with the 2007 EPA standards. This issue is very important because of the massive number of diesel trucks that will be used for the sediment trucking operation, more than 400 truckloads each day and more than 150,000 over the 3-5 year project life.

The EIR also failed to support its proposed habitat mitigation plan with any evidence to support the District's conclusion that its proposed mitigation would compensate for the massive environmental destruction the project will create, instead simply stating that Flood Control District would mitigate habitat loss damage on a one-to-one basis, meaning they would enhance one acre for each acre destroyed. The judge chided the District for not providing an adequate mitigation plan and for not documenting why it believed that a one-to-one mitigation ratio was adequate. Many such projects in sensitive habitat areas like Hahahamongna have mitigation requirements of three-to-one or even five-to-one.

Tim Brick, Managing Director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation stated, "We are proud of the accomplishments of our lawsuit so far and grateful to our attorneys, Mitchell Tsai and Christina Caro, who have done a fine job of presenting the case. The fight to save Hahamongna goes on. The Arroyo Seco Foundation is grateful to our partners, Pasadena Audubon Society, and to the public for your support."

Laura Garrett, Conservation Chair of the Pasadena Audubon Society said, "Pasadena Audubon is grateful to our attorneys for articulating our case so clearly, to the Arroyo Seco Foundation for partnering with us, and to our members for their support. We are very glad that Judge Chalfant agreed with us that this EIR is flawed, and we remain hopeful that we can find a way to keep the dam safe without without causing so much environmental destruction in Hahamongna."

Pasadena Star-News: Devil's Gate Dam sediment removal project dealt a blow after environmental report deemed 'deficient'

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