Walter Mencken 1:04 p.m., Sept. 4
Environmental Groups Sue to Block New Desert Town
Environmental groups have filed suit against a proposed development near the Salton Sea that they say would irreparably harm the environment.
The Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity allege that Travertine Point, a 4,900 acre development that would include up to 16,655 residential units and 5 million square feet of commercial space in a remote location 16 miles from the nearest established town, would dramatically increase vehicle pollution and further damage the already-imperiled Salton Sea.
“Given the project's remote location, project residents - and especially early residents - will be forced to drive long distances for job and basic services. This massive influx of people, and the resulting traffic, will lead to an increase in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in a region that already had some of the nation's highest air pollution levels.
"It will also catalyze more growth and cause significant new impacts on nearby parks, biological resources and cultural resources,” says the groups’ complaint, which claims that the project’s approval and allegedly inadequate environmental report violate the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Code of Regulations. They’re asking a judge to order approval of the project to be revoked and new environmental studies to be commissioned.
“It's baffling why they approved the project in light of the economic downturn and the decline in the housing market,” Center lawyer Aruna Prabhala tells the Courthouse News Service.
Paul Quill, the project manager for developer Black Emerald Properties, disagrees with the environmental report assessment, as well as the timing for the project.
He says it’s estimated the population of the area will expand by some 150,000 over the next 30 years, and his project offers a better option for smart growth rather than piecemeal development.
“The opponents claim that the project's environmental impact was not thoroughly studied, but there are around 3,000 pages in the environmental report, excluding the appendices,” says Quill.
“It was a five-year process, and it was revised and recirculated three times. The project was thoroughly vetted on the environment aspect, so we take issue with their assertion that it wasn't.”
Environmentalists respond that despite the revisions, issues brought forth by their groups and government agencies were never fully addressed.
“We also had outside experts come in and analyze the project, and their studies showed that it addresses voluminous clean energy concerns by including sustainable measures like making places within walking distance, having electrical vehicle outlets, and using solar opportunities in residential and commercial areas,” Quill continues, rebutting the claim that the remoteness of the project will increase vehicle traffic and air pollution.
“Overall, they estimated that a person living in the community would reduce their carbon footprint by 38 percent as compared to someone living in a standard area like San Bernardino.”
Erin Chalmers, a lawyer with the Sierra Club, is skeptical of these claims.
“They claim that residents will make 14 percent, or one in seven trips in the community on foot, but this is an area where temperatures are routinely over 100 degrees three to four months a year.
The air quality is horrid, the sea smells disgusting, and there are many military flyovers at very loud decibels,” Chalmers says. “Believing that anyone will willingly walk anywhere in conditions like this is just unrealistic.”
Pictured: Salton Sea shoreline