Wednesday, March 25, 2015

River advocates pleased with progress on Wild and Scenic study legislation

Friends of the River and Foothill Conservancy today praised amendments approved by
the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and made to Assembly Bill 142 (Bigelow-R,
O’Neals). The amendments move the Mokelumne River toward permanent protection as
a state Wild and Scenic River. While the actual bill language has not yet been published,
the advocates obtained a copy of the amendments when the bill passed out of the
committee Monday on an 8-1 vote.

“The amendments addressed our major concerns with AB 142 by transforming it into a
legitimate, meaningful and useful Wild and Scenic study bill, said Steve Evans, Wild
Rivers Consultant for Friends of the River. “Assemblyman Bigelow accepted the
strongest interim river protection measures ever included in a state Wild and Scenic River
study bill. We were also pleased to hear Mr. Bigelow say before the Committee that he
could support Wild and Scenic protection for the Mokelumne if recommended by the
Natural Resources Secretary following the study.”

As amended, AB 142 calls for the state Resources Agency to study the suitability of the
Mokelumne River upstream of Pardee Reservoir for protection as a state Wild and Scenic
River. Among other things, the study will be required to analyze whether designation
would affect local water agencies’ ability to meet water demand, based on “feasible
projects and foreseeable demand,” as well as document the effects of designation on
water rights of previously designated state wild and scenic rivers.

“We’d still like to see a real Wild and Scenic River bill without further delay,” said
Cecily Smith, Foothill Conservancy Executive Director. “The Mokelumne has been
studied extensively, and we know this study is not yet a done deal. It will be a challenge
to fund and complete within the short time frame called for in the bill, and the Legislature
may not want to spend money studying river protection during a drought. But we’re
pleased that Assemblyman Bigelow wants to do the right thing for the river and
recognizes its importance to our communities.”

“The Mokelumne has been the subject of two federal wild and scenic river studies, a
watershed assessment and most recently, an interregional water planning process that has
cost nearly $900,000 -- all paid for by the taxpayers,” said Evans. “But if this study will
help allay the concerns expressed by local water agencies last year while making progress
toward permanent Mokelumne protection, that would be real progress for the river.”
Foothill Conservancy and Friends of the River AB 142 amendments page 2

State Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne would prevent new dams
and major diversions on the protected river sections, with some exceptions for local water
use. As it will be amended, AB 142 will provide that same protection until the Natural
Resources Secretary’s recommendations are implemented. It will also prohibit state
funding, cooperation or other assistance for water projects that could harm the freeflowing
condition and natural character of the river.

Friends of the River and the Foothill Conservancy sponsored a bill last year authored by
Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) to protect 37 miles of the Mokelumne as a Wild and
Scenic River. After passing the Senate and the Assembly Natural Resources Committees,
the bill was suspended in the Assembly Appropriations Committee at Assemblyman
Bigelow’s request over alleged costs to the state.

More than 1.4 million residents of the East Bay Area depend on clean water from the
Mokelumne River. Because it will help protect drinking water quality, the East Bay
Municipal Utility District recently unanimously approved resolutions asking the
California Legislature and Governor Brown to protect the Mokelumne as a Wild and
Scenic River and urging that AB 142 be amended to provide interim protection for the
river while a study is conducted.

For more information, contact Steve Evans of Friends of the River at 916-708-3155 or
Katherine Evatt of Foothill Conservancy at 209-296-5734. end

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pine Grove Dollar General Project headed to Court of Appeal

The lawsuit challenging the proposed Pine Grove Dollar General store will be heading to the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

On October 24, 2014, following substantial public opposition from up-country residents, the Amador County Building Department issued a building permit allowing the construction of the Dollar General store at the intersection of Ridge Road and Highway 88.  
On November 6, 2014 the Pine Grove Business Alliance (PGBA) filed a lawsuit in Amador Superior Court asking to court to require the County to revoke the permit on the basis that the property's zoning did not allow the proposed Dollar General store, the project conflicted with the Amador County General Plan, and the County's reliance on a single page 1984 "Negative Declaration" could not substitute for addressing and mitigating environmental impacts from the project such as traffic and reduced community services.

On February 25, 2015 the Amador County Superior granted a motion filed by the County and the developer holding that Pine Grove Business Alliance must first ask the County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to address the legality of the building permit before filing suit.   PGBA intends to immediately challenge this dismissal order in the appellate court.  PGBA asserts that not only was the administrative review process inapplicable to the claims raised, but that process would also take several months to complete.  Meanwhile the building permit would remain active and the developer would be free to construct, and even begin operating, the Dollar General store while the County considered PGBA's challenges to the legality of the permit.  
"It's a Catch 22 that the County and developer have concocted in an attempt to keep the Pine Grove community from stopping this project in court," said PGBA member Debra Dunn.  "The Board of Supervisors already expressed their support for this project and their dislike for our opposition to it last July," said Dunn, referring to a July 29, 2014 Supervisors meeting where several PGBA members and their attorney raised the same zoning and environmental objections to a parcel map to accommodate the Dollar General that was ultimately approved by the Board of Supervisors.  "Not only do we believe the administrative review process is inapplicable to the Dollar General building permit, there is no reason to assume the Board of Supervisors would suddenly change its mind on this project if we went through an administrative review process and presented the same arguments again."
Instead, the group will ask the appellate court in Sacramento to overturn the local court to stop the project.

"No court has said whether the Dollar General permit is illegal," said PGBA attorney Brett Jolley, "That's the ultimate question here.  And we submit the facts and the law support PGBA's position."  PGBA wants that question answered sooner rather than later.  But the County apparently does not.  "The County has taken the aggressive position that the building permit is valid but doesn't want the court to have the opportunity to reject that contention.  The County's motion to dismiss will now delay reaching that final issue.  So we will ask the appellate court to help us answer that question in an expedited manner,"  Jolley explained.

PGBA opposes the Dollar General project for many reasons.  "Not only is it prohibited by the zoning on the property, but it will bring traffic and environmental effects to Pine Grove that should be mitigated, it will likely close several locally-owned businesses, and it reflects the poor planning policies that allowed so many unattractive, haphazardly-planned strip malls and metal-siding buildings to litter the Amador County landscape in the 1970s," said PGBA member Sunny Mavi.  "Our new general plan says Pine Grove development should be coherently planned and aesthetically pleasing.  Let's hold this project to that vision."

"If the County thinks it complied with all zoning and environmental laws in approving the Dollar General, why work so hard to keep the court from ruling on that issue?" concluded Dunn.  "Their actions suggest they are not very confident in the lawfulness of the Dollar General permit.  And so, even as the building is being constructed, we will continue to fight on for the Pine Grove residents."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

News Flash: Public Hearing on Tuesday March 24 regarding Newman Ridge Quarry project

NEWS FLASH!! MARK YOUR CALENDAR TO ATTEND - Tuesday, March 24th, at 1:30 pm, there is a Public Hearing at the County Center, 810 Court Street, Jackson, with the Amador Board of Supervisors to hear from all interested parties any objections to the project. The County has issued a response to the EIR, which ignores the environmental issues that the people of Amador County are so concerned about, despite the 545 signatures and 45+ letters from local citizens opposing the projects, in addition to hundreds more in California and the State and local Agency objections

The EIR response ignores all issues and offers the people of Amador County no mitigation for traffic congestion, toxic air pollution, wastewater and runoff, groundwater usage or biological resources devastation. The Quarry and Asphalt plant plans do not comply with local air or water rules. The project does not present any documented financial justification or a bond for reclamation. It is clear the County means to approve the projects despite the very strong opposition from the same people that will be severely and significantly impacted for the next 50 years, both in the Ione Valley and for all of Amador County...unless we show up and voice our concerns! Please come to the meeting to be heard...Your comments can be brief or long, but your presence is VERY important! 

The land is part of an 11,000 acre historic ranch, prized for open grassland grazing, threatened wildlife, seasonal wetlands, raptors, rare plants and self-regenerating California oak trees, complete with scenic views of the SierrasThese projects could deprive Amador County citizens permanently of their health, air quality, and rural way of life, abundance and quality of water in the Ione Valley. 

Currently, Amador County is considering a new plan for the Quarry and Asphalt Plant that would allow hundreds of gravel and asphalt trucks per day through the five block town of Ione. In addition, a railroad train of 80 cars one to two times per day would block both Highway 104 and Ione-Michigan Bar Road which are the main roads to Sacramento and Galt. 

The project would create huge amounts of dangerous air pollution, greenhouse gas producing toxins, dangerous concentrations of PM 2.5, PM 10 and NOX, noise, depletion of local groundwater, destruction of cultural grounds and open space, along with other serious environmental issues. 
Please come to the Public Hearing! We can propose conservation, permanent grasslands and an eco-tourism park but we must object to these projects Now!