Inadequate Environmental Reports Result In Uptick Of Denied Projects
“…The Judge found the environmental impact report was inadequate on a number of issues which will likely have to be addressed before the project moves forward.”
Wendy Rea, founder of the Greenspot Residents Association
A judge has ruled against Highland’s proposed 3,600-house Harmony development, partially siding with environmental and community groups that opposed the massive project in two related lawsuits.
The suits, filed in September 2016, challenged the city’s approval of the project due to what they called an “inadequate” environmental report.
Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez found the report failed to analyze the entire scope of the project in leaving out a needed bridge over Mill Creek. Impacts on flooding, and to water and wildlife habitat were also not fully considered, he said. Read more.
Riverside County’s new master trails plan for Box Springs Mountain Reserve unveils a vision for a network of nearly 70 miles of sustainable paths with scenic views, technical challenges for hikers and mountain bikers and new routes to the mountain’s “Big C,” a UC Riverside homecoming ritual cancelled last fall over safety concerns.
The plan is part of an effort to help maintain locals’ access to the reserve and its wild trails after Metrolink trains began running on the Perris Valley Line on Monday, June 6.
The Riverside County Transportation Commission in late May put up a six-foot-tall fence for 2,000 feet along the railway between Big Springs Road and Mount Vernon Avenue to stop University neighborhood residents and UCR students from crossing the tracks at Islander Park to hike the popular Big C Trail and other parts of the reserve.
There are no crossing gates, warning lights or signs at the tracks there.
Pedestrian crossings there, which are illegal, drew mounting safety concerns as the transportation commission’s upgrades to the 24-mile Perris-to-Riverside railroad track extension were completed in May. After decades of scant use by slow-moving freight trains, the railway will now serve up to 240 Metrolink trains a month.
Yet before any trail upgrades can get underway, stakeholders must determine whether to build a tunnel or bridge across the upgraded tracks to a new or existing Big C Trail up Box Springs Mountain, buy land and finance construction.
“At this point, everybody is kind of on hold as we try to resolve what gets built and what we’re applying for,” said Jeff Greene, chief of staff for Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, whose office has been involved in work on the issues.
‘A FABULOUS RESOURCE’
Protecting access to the 3,400-acre reserve – an important natural corridor that’s home to hidden springs, abundant wildlife and one of the region’s most popular hiking areas – was one reason the local land preservation group, Friends of Riverside’s Hills, sued to stop the $248 million commuter rail line extension.
The master plan’s creation was overseen by the Riverside County Regional Park & Open-Space District, which manages the reserve, and funded with $189,000 from a court-approved settlement to Friends of Riverside’s Hills.
The $3 million settlement directed the transportation commission, which owns the tracks, to reduce train noise and grant residents access to the reserve, an open space also used by bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, burros and burrowing owls.
In addition, the settlement provided funds to buy land, build trails and help residents reduce train noise on their properties, said Gurumantra Khalsa, president of Friends of Riverside’s Hills and a University neighborhood resident.
The reserve currently holds seven established trails totalling 17.25 miles: Two Trees, Skyline Loops 1 and 2, Edison, Sugarloaf, the M above Moreno Valley and the favorite yet unofficial Big C Trail, a roughly mile-long route with deeply rutted sections on steep, eroding slopes.
The master plan calls for 68.5 miles of interconnected trails that would include two loops circling the base and mountaintops, three short vista trails and a paved, multi-use path along the Perris Valley Line between Moreno Valley and UCR that may be used by bicycle commuters and students.
The plan also proposes new staging areas and trailheads that could include toilets, corrals, water, picnic tables, benches, shade trees, hitching posts, bike racks or parking. Trailheads would have fewer amenities.
Existing trails would be rerouted to make them more sustainable and environmentally friendly and to create more challenging routes through boulders and rock slabs for hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers.
Some informal trails could be added to the system, which would contain more neighborhood access points to increase connectivity for the most residents from all the surrounding communities, Khalsa said.
“Once it’s completed and built, it’ll be a fabulous resource,” he added.
Plan consultants estimated trail work could cost up to $74,000 per mile, although much could cost far less and some would cost more. The plan doesn’t estimate total cost, said Riverside County Regional Park & Open-Space District Resources Bureau Chief Keith Herron.
‘A SAFE SOLUTION’
Project partners including the county, preservation group, city, UCR and RCTC must agree on the next steps to tackle, including whether a tunnel or bridge can be built across the tracks at Islander Park, then create a construction plan before federal and state grants are sought. No meetings are set, he said.
Islander Park may get a staging area to provide access to the lower circumference trail, the multi-use path and two new C Trails: a 3.75-mile main trail with long, gentle switchbacks across the face of the mountain and a 2.5-mile technical C Trail. The heavily damaged existing Big C Trail would be abandoned.
Without such a crossing, C Trail access would be at Blaine Street, a car ride away from the UCR campus and much of the neighborhood. Students are unlikely to go that far, and campus officials are considering how much to pitch in for a tunnel or bridge, UCR Director of Local Government and Community Relations Jeff Kraus said.
“We think there needs to be a solution that’s closer to campus than Blaine. A safe solution,” he said.
RCTC posted “No Trespassing” signs and mounted a rail safety educational campaign before weekend test trains began running Oct. 31. The agency supports the plan and agreed in the settlement to allow a crossing that complies with state and federal laws for rail right-of-way, said commission Deputy Executive Director John Standiford.
Friends of Riverside’s Hills paid for the plan to support county grant applications and expects to provide matching funds, but can’t finance the entire project, Khalsa said.
The group is working on cost estimates for low-cost track crossings after the county and RCTC estimated a tunnel or bridge could cost $2 million. The group hired retired State Parks Director Pete Dangermond to coordinate certain issues including land acquisition, Friends of Riverside’s Hills board member Kevin Dawson said.
The fence is temporarily blocking access to the reserve from a large chunk of the University neighborhood, Khalsa said.
“We’ve got more trains, we’ve got more traffic, we have less access,” said Khalsa, adding the group is trying to get access restored as quickly as possible.
After nearly 60 years of UCR homecoming hikes on the existing Big C Trail, the event was cancelled for the 2015 homecoming in November after someone from RCTC called the university’s alumni foundation and asked them not to hold the hike, said Kraus, who doesn’t know if the hike will be held this year.
He couldn’t confirm reports that someone from RCTC told foundation workers Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, who police Metrolink, would cite hikers for trespassing on homecoming.
Standiford said that was possible.
“We might have,” he said. “It’s entirely out of safety. There are trailheads in the area where that trail can be accessed without having to cross the tracks there.”
Human and wildlife travel are beginning to coexist in safer and healthier ways as wildlife crossings become a standard best practice for highway departments.
Wildlife crossings can be as simple as a small culvert under the roadway designed for reptiles and amphibians, or structures can be as complicated as a bridge crossing over an interstate designed for large animals like deer and elk.
Regardless of the type of crossing, the intent is to make the roadways safer by diverting wildlife away from motorist throughways while also reducing habitat fragmentation and increasing landscape connectivity.Find out how states are beginning to work together with wildlife and drivers in Roads and Bridges.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a private land owner in Wyoming, who sued to reclaim land once granted to a railroad under an 1875 law. The ruling undermines the legality of the nation’s network of public trails built on former rail right-of-way.
Lyle Denniston details the 8-1 ruling in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States: “At considerable potential cost to the federal government, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that land swapped with, or transferred to private owners under an 1875 law became their property in full again once a railroad that ran across the property has been abandoned. The decision turned mainly upon an argument that the government had made to the Court seventy-two years ago and won — an argument that now was turned against it.” The 1942 case that enabled this week’s ruling was Great Northern Railway Co. v. United States.
According to Denniston, it’s still unclear just how much land the ruling will impact: “It is unclear just how many acres (primarily in western states) will be covered by the new ruling, although the Justice Department had told the Court that the case involved the legality of ‘thousands of miles of former rights-of-way’ that the public now uses as recreational trails or park lands.”
In a separate article, Jess Bavin addresses the impact of the ruling on efforts around the country to convert former rail rights-of-way into public trails. Bavin quotes Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the lone dissenting member of the court, who makes the point of how expensive a decision this might represent: “The Court undermines the legality of thousands of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation…And lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Animals bridges, which may also be known as ecoducts or wildlife crossings, are structures that allow animals to safely cross human-made barriers like highways. A wildlife crossing is the broadest term and can include: underpass tunnels, viaducts, overpasses and bridges, amphibian tunnels, fish ladders, culvets and green roofs. [Source]
Wildlife crossings are a practice in habitat conservation, allowing connections or reconnections between habitats and combating habitat fragmentation. They also assist in avoiding collisions between vehicles and animals, which in addition to killing or injuring wildlife may cause injury to humans and property damage. It has been reported that vehicle-animals collisions costs the United States a staggering $8 Billion a year.
The first wildlife crossings were constructed in France during the 1950s. European countries including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and France have been using various crossing structures to reduce the conflict between wildlife and roads for several decades and use a variety of overpasses and underpasses to protect and reestablish wildlife such as: amphibians, badgers, ungulates, invertebrates, and other small mammals. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Humane Society of the United States reports that the more than 600 tunnels installed under major and minor roads in the Netherlands have helped to substantially increase population levels of the endangered European Badger. The longest “ecoduct” viaduct, near Crailo in the Netherlands, runs 800 meters and spans a highway, railway and golf course. [Source: Wikipedia]
Wildlife crossings are becoming increasingly common in Canada and the United States. Recognizable wildlife crossings are found in Banff National Park in Alberta, where vegetated overpasses provide safe passage over the Trans-Canada Highway for bears, moose, deer, wolves, elk, and many other species. The 24 wildlife crossings in Banff were constructed as part of a road improvement project in 1978. In the United States, thousands of wildlife crossings have been built in the past 30 years, including culverts, bridges, and overpasses. These have been used to protect Mountain Goats in Montana, Spotted Salamanders in Massachusetts, Bighorn Sheep in Colorado, Desert Tortoises in California, and endangered Florida Panthers in Florida. [Source: Wikipedia]
Below you will find a small gallery of animal bridges around the world. A few remain unidentified, if you recognize the location, please let us know in the comments below!
The Perris Valley Metrolink lawsuit was heard by Judge Sharon J. Waters Tuesday, January 29th. One week earlier, Judge Waters released her tentative ruling in which many of the issues we raised in the lawsuit were validated.
This gave the Riverside County Transportation Commission a week to persuade the judge to reverse her tentative ruling. Tuesday’s all day session provided lots of back and forth debate and case law cites to persuade the judge. Stay tuned for a final decision.
An extension of Metrolink service to Perris is delayed as the battle over an environmental report goes to trial
A dispute by a Riverside environmental group and transportation planners appears headed for the courtroom, potentially delaying a long-sought extension of Metrolink service to Perris.
In a statement, the Riverside County Transportation Commission said Thursday that negotiations between the agency and Friends of Riverside Hills over the environmental report for the Perris Valley Line had ceased. The project would extend Metrolink service from downtown Riverside to Perris via a 24-mile section of track owned by the transportation commission.
Friends of Riverside Hills filed a lawsuit in August challenging the environmental report for the rail project, saying officials did not adequately detail the noise and pollution impacts of excavating dirt around the tracks and other aspects of construction.
Richard Block, a Riverside Hills member, said concerns ranging from the tons of dirt that will be hauled away from the project to the squealing of train wheels are unresolved.
â€œThe evidence presented in the environmental process clearly shows the project will have negative impacts,â€ Block said. â€œAnd they are either incompetent to them or ignoring them.â€
He also said officials are grossly overestimating the lineâ€™s ridership, noting that the 4,300 daily riders estimated in the report would exceed the ridership of existing Metrolink service in Riverside County. Ridership along the entire 91 Line from Riverside to Union Station in Los Angeles was 5,161 in June, according to Metrolink.
Officials stand by the environmental assessment and claim the mitigations they have detailed are satisfactory, said John Standiford, the commissionâ€™s deputy executive director.
Block and Standiford both said they could not detail specifics of the negotiations. But in a news release, transportation officials confirmed the dispute was destined for trial, delaying construction.
â€œThe Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension will provide an environmentally friendly commute option by utilizing an existing rail track that has been in the area for more than a century, thus avoiding significant environmental impacts,â€ Supervisor John Benoit said, in the news release.
Officials have said the cars the project will take off I-215 cause far more pollution than the rail line extension.
Litigation would further delay the project which was initially supposed to start construction in late spring, based on estimates last year. Now the work will wait until the lawsuit is resolved. Standiford said officials would hope a court decision could come by late fall. Officials would have to wait on other approvals and award a contract for the construction, probably in early 2013.
Based on estimates, service on the line would start about 18 months after construction begins. Transportation officials say the project would create more than 4,000 jobs.
There is a holocaust happening. Right now. And it’s not confined to one nation or even one region. It is a global crisis.
Species are going extinct en masse.
Every 20 minutes we lose an animal species. If this rate continues, by century’s end, 50% of all living species will be gone. It is a phenomenon known as the sixth extinction. The fifth extinction took place 65 million years ago when a meteor smashed into the Earth, killing off the dinosaurs and many other species and opening the door for the rise of mammals. Currently, the sixth extinction is on track to dwarf the fifth.
What — or more correctly — who is to blame this time? As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
The causes of this mass die-off are many: overpopulation, loss of habitat, global warming, species exploitation (the black market for rare animal parts is the third-largest illegal trade in the world, outranked only by weapons and drugs). The list goes on, but it all points to us.
Over the last 15 years, in the course of producing television documentaries and writing about wildlife, I have traveled the globe, and I have witnessed the grim carnage firsthand. I’ve observed the same story playing out in different locales.
In South Africa, off the coast of Cape Horn, lives one of the most feared predators of all — the great white shark. Yet this awesome creature is powerless before the mindless killing spree that is decimating its species at the jaw-dropping rate of 100 million sharks a year. Many are captured so that their dorsal fins can be chopped off (for shark fin soup). Then, still alive, they are dropped back into the sea, where they die a slow and painful death.
Further east, in Indonesia, I witnessed the mass destruction of rain forests to make way for palm oil plantations. Indonesia is now the world’s leading producer of palm oil — a product used in many packaged foods and cosmetic goods — and the victims are the Sumatran elephant and orangutan. These beautiful creatures are on the brink of extinction as their habitats go up in smoke, further warming our planet in the process.